A minute leaf sample can authenticate the plant from where it came from, fast, and accurately.

This is the promise of DNA barcoding, a diagnostic technique using a short DNA sequence to identify an organism, plant or animal.

The Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council on Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) Drug Discovery program is supporting research and development at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for the identification of plants through DNA barcoding.

It’s very much like the barcoding in supermarket products. Instead of multiple vertical lines, however, DNA bases (A, C, T, and G) are used.

When DNA sequences are available, computing tools are employed to spotlight the exact identity of the sample. The challenge is to look for a genetic sequence or DNA barcode that can be used to differentiate plant species.

In research funded by the DOST-PCHRD, DNA barcoding is applied in the authentication of Philippine medicinal plant species.

The barcoding team is headed by Dr. Grecebio Jonathan D. Alejandro who conducts explorations to collect medicinal plants listed in the Plant Resources of Southeast Asia, a data bank. Field activities collect samples that are then stored at the University of Sto. Tomas Herbarium. Genomic DNA extractions from leaf samples follow.

Generally, the project consists of three phases: plant collection followed by molecular work then the establishment of a medicinal plant database So far, the UST Herbarium has accumulated more than 400 medicinal plant samples.

The barcoding team aims to come up with the best DNA barcode or their combinations for the molecular authentication of local medicinal plants.

The team is developing a database that will be used to store and retrieve any available data automatically. The resulting Philippine Medicinal Plants DNA Barcode Database publicly available online in 2015.

It was a web resource of all the collated data which will include, but not limited to, taxonomy and biology of each sample, medical properties, possible adulterants, photo-documents, molecular data, and key references.

To hasten the development of the database, the UST researchers have partnered with the UST Information Technology Department to provide the expertise in the construction of the database architecture before the actual web hosting.

The DNA barcode database will serve as an essential resource for researchers in taxonomy and conservation as well as the medical industry and environmental monitoring agencies.

The database will be a boon to researchers who will now have the information to authenticate the source of raw plant materials used, for example, in pharmaceutical preparations.

Written by:Prof. Grecebio Jonathan D. Alejandro, Dr.rer.nat.
University of Santo Tomas

Published by:Department of Science and Technology-Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII)