Fight Against Wildlife Trafficking Goes High Tech With ‘DNA Barcodes’
Authorities working to stop illegal wildlife trafficking will soon have a new weapon in their arsenal—DNA barcodes. As highlighted by a recent article published in The Guardian, this cutting-edge technique enables researchers to identify a species based on a tiny amount of genetic material that can be extracted from something as small as a drop of pollen. Though DNA barcodes wouldn’t be required for the identification of all animals, it could be crucial for pinpointing the species of smuggled products such as capsules of medicinal plants, bird feathers, or — one of the most commonly trafficked items — bushmeat.
The drive to use DNA barcoding to combat wildlife traffickers is being led by Barcode of Wildlife, an international initiative (funded in part by Google) that is working to identify and catalog 774 plant and animal species from six countries. Researchers from around the world are using samples obtained from museums, zoos, and botanical gardens to help build the database, which will contain DNA barcodes from commonly smuggled species as well as those that are closely related or look similar. Authorities may be able to tap into the database within the next few months to both identify and obtain courtroom evidence to convict traffickers.