Rainforest plants have DNA barcodes recorded

QUEENSLAND research capabilities are under the international spotlight, with scientists DNA barcoding all 870 species of plants found in south-east Queensland rainforests.

Science and Innovation Minister Ian Walker said the ground breaking work will build a global reference database, while assisting to protect rare species and map our state's biodiversity.

"DNA barcodes will help quarantine officers, forensic investigators, land owners and others who need to quickly and accurately identify unknown plants and plant parts that may be poisonous, prohibited or legally protected," Mr Walker said.

"It will significantly cut the time it takes to identify unknown rainforest trees, shrubs, vines and herbs.

"It will also shed light on the diversity of our subtropical rainforests and help us appreciate how rich and distinct they are."

Dr Alison Shapcott from the University of the Sunshine Coast was awarded a Queensland Government-Smithsonian Fellowship in 2012

She spent 26 weeks in the Smithsonian Institution's laboratories in Washington DC and has extracted and sequenced the DNA of 775 Queensland rainforest species so far.

"I've been able to achieve a lot in a short time by working alongside the Smithsonian researchers who perfected the extraction and sequencing of plant DNA barcodes and Queensland Herbarium botanists who are experts on the state's flora," Dr Shapcott said.

"We've generated a unique, three-gene DNA barcode for most species which will be shared globally via the International Barcode of Life (BOLD) and Genebank databases. And we're breaking new ground by applying our barcodes to datasets of plants with known locations to assess biodiversity in southern Queensland rainforests.

"Our analyses show that sub coastal rainforests from the Conondale Ranges to the New South Wales border and those of the Scenic Rim have the highest species diversity and are the most distinct.

"We're now refining our approach and working with collaborators to complete the Queensland rainforest barcode library and assess Australian rainforest diversity and the genetic distances between Australian species and rainforests on other continents."

Curator in the Smithsonian Institution's Department of Botany, Dr John Kress, said Queensland's contribution to the international library of known plant DNA barcodes was highly valued.

"This collaborative work on DNA barcodes has greatly advanced the technology used and will be of tremendous help in assessing conservation priorities in Queensland forests," Dr Kress said.

Topics:  environment science

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