Saturday, September 1, 2012

CSI: Rainforest

Brazilian police officers have traveled all the way to the Royal Botanical Garden in Edinburgh, Scotland to receive training in DNA Barcoding at Pete Hollingsworth's lab. They are forensic experts who want to extend their expertise to put an end to illegal logging in the Amazonian rainforest.

Brazilwood (Credit Encyclopedia Britannica)
Illegal logging is on the ­increase in Brazil, which is home to a large number of rare and protected tree species. Criminal gangs working in the Amazon rainforest fell the trees to satisfy a black market for the wood both in Brazil and abroad. It is a lucrative business for the loggers, e.g. the wood for a single violin bow is worth several thousand dollars. Just recently the police confiscated several violins which are believed to be made from brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata) an endangered tree that gave Brazil its name. However, the currently used methods are not sufficient to provide a conclusive result and therefore it is very difficult to get a conviction. 

Violin bows made from Brazilwood
DNA Barcoding might be exactly what is needed to prove that seized wood or wood products are from protected species and there is great interest to develop a barcode reference library of plants that are protected from international trade. It is about time to equip law enforcement authorities with a tool that provides conclusive evidence in such cases. It is almost unbelievable but it is estimated that illegal logging alone causes losses in assets and revenue in excess of 10 billion Dollar annually.


  1. I feel honour-bound to point out, in case anyone is planning on flocking to RBGE to view our multiple Brazilian police officers, that 'they' are in fact singular.

  2. Ooops - should have done my research more thoroughly.