Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Barcoding local - Contributions by course participants (1)

The Introduction to DNA Barcoding course I am teaching is in its final week but we have already lined up another one running from June 1 to July 24, 2015. One of the weekly assignments of the course is an essay that combines what participants learned in the first 7 weeks and what they are doing at their home institution. This is one of the highlights of the course for me as it provides me with some unique insights into the work of colleagues world wide but it also shows me how well I did with teaching to that point. 

There are usually so many very interesting contributions that I always thought it would be a loss to the community at large if not shared more broadly. Therefore, I asked the participants of this course if they would give me permission to share their work through this blog. 

This is what I ask the participants in the respective unit:
Consider what you have learned so far about the application of DNA barcoding in several socio-economic fields. Try to come up with an application of the method in your professional or social environment. Your main motivation to take this course might be related to such an issue. Describe the issue at hand and how DNA barcoding could help. Assess how difficult or easy it might be to implement the new technology.

The first one who agreed to share his answer is Charuwat Taekul, head of the insect collection at the Insect Museum Thailand which is part of the Federal Department of Agriculture located in Bangkok. 

The development of a DNA barcoding knowledge base can help alleviate the situation of current trade negotiation. The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) currently plays a vital role in trade negotiations after non-tariff barriers have been established by the WTO. This means all members of the WTO not only are free to trade but also cannot limit the import/export of commodities unless there are scientifically proven health concerns or other reasons. The IPPC calls this subject "Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS)." However, this issues results in several issues when it comes to trade between countries. For example, EU countries claim that certain species of insects contaminate agricultural products and because these species do not occur in the EU member states, those products are banned from import into the EU. However, we are currently not sure these claims stem from actual research or trade barriers. To resolve such issues, the IPPC established experimental procedures, which all member countries can uniformly employ, the International Standard Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs).

A number of protocols using DNA Barcoding are applied into ISPMs, e.g., ISPM No.27: Diagnostic Protocols for Regulated Pests. This protocol deals with the detection of Thrips palmi using real-time PCR since this species represents a trade barrier for import into the EU as it is a recognized invasive species. My research focuses on establishing ideal conditions for real-time PCR to detect Thrips palmi in Thailand to support the ISPM. 

DNA barcoding may help in pest control strategies as well as save the governmental money. A couple years ago, Thailand had critical pest problems with the coconut black-headed caterpillar, Opisina arenosella and the Pink sugarcane mealybug Saccharicoccus sacchari. These two species play an important role as invasive alien species and had a huge impact on the federal budget due to the large scale import of their natural enemies to control them. This classical control was applied without investigating the species richness of native natural enemies since the damage is quite widespread and uncontrollable. Nevertheless we might have saved a lot of money by investigating if suitable biocontrol agents are already available from native sources before importing them from elsewhere. Obtaining the information for both native pests and their natural enemies is important.

The formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN+3 (China, South Korea, and Japan) in late 2015 will bring the major changes to the economy, businesses, the workforce and society. The AEC is not only establishing free trade zones within Asia but also generating a single market and production zone to boost the competitiveness, thereby unequivocally creating free mobility of goods, services, investments, and skilled labors. DNA barcoding could help develop national capacities in detection and management of invasive alien species and plant pests as well as utilize the knowledge base to other research areas. After all, Thailand provides suitable conditions for many  alien species which might allow them to establish quite well. 

Despite the fact that DNA barcoding could play a significant role in trade facilitation as well as pest control and invasive species management, only little financial support has been provided for the program. A taxonomic proposal for pest and natural enemies has been suspended. The national science foundation claims that it is not a pressing issue and that the results cannot be applied at this moment. The main problems here are the lack of financial support from the government and the lack of recognition from the other fields of the scientific community.

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