DNA technology to curb illegal timber trade

EoF News / 01 August 2006

UK Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner said the 12-month project to develop a generic DNA-based method of identification, could revolutionise the application of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to timber by enabling enforcement bodies around the world to get a firm grip on the illegal trade in timber.

"If successful, the project will enable enforcement bodies around the world to rally get a grip on the illegal trade in timber," he said in a statement Saturday in conjunction with his visit here to discuss issues on sustainable forestry and illegal logging.

At present, Gardiner said the illegal timber trade was responsible for tropical deforestation, which in turn was recognised as a major factor in the loss of biodiversity and a key driver in global warming and climate change.

He said the monitoring project aimed to provide proof of concept for the development of DNA-based timber identification techniques of tree species that could be readily applied by enforcement bodies in all countries.

The work will include all of the necessary stages in the production of a validated forensic test, focusing on a single target species, he said.

The project will also provide a working species identification test that will demonstrate the utility of DNA techniques in CITES enforcement, he said, adding that it would be relevant to trade in the Asian timber Ramin (Gonystylus spp).

Timber Ramin is found in the major range states of Malaysia and Indonesia and includes major importing countries in the European Union (EU), United States and China.

Under the current system, accurate identification requires high level of botanical expertise and extensive wood anatomy collections, which can limit enforcement agencies ability to investigate and counter illegal trade, he said.

The Development of Genetic Techniques For the Forensic Identification of CITES-Listed Timber and Wood Products is being conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Wildlife DNA Services Limited.