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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Scheffler, Brian
item Tabanca, Nurhayat
item Crockett, Sara
item Douglas, Andy
item Techen, Natascha
item Kahn, Ikhlas

Submitted to: American Society for Horticultural Science
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/1/2003
Publication Date: 9/1/2003
Citation: Scheffler, B.E., Tabanca, N., Crockett, S., Douglas, A., Techen, N., Kahn, I. 2003. How molecular biology methods can be used in the authentication of botanicals. American Society for Horticultural Science.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: Molecular biology offers an array of methodologies that can be used in the field of botanical supplements. Depending on the process used, it is possible to identify a plant species, characterize and thus protect a variety, or identify contaminants within a sample. These applications require the isolation of DNA from the sample, amplification of specific regions of the DNA using various forms of the technique called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) and, in some instances, the determination of the DNA sequence of the PCR product. Until recently, most molecular biology techniques required a significant investment in equipment and highly skilled trained individuals. With the advent of commercial kits, vendors offering reasonably priced sequencing or fragment analysis services, and development of inexpensive equipment, a small firm could invest approximately $10,000 to have a functional molecular biology lab to help in the authentication of botanicals. Commercial kits for DNA extraction and PCR make some of the procedures relatively easy to perform with limited training and they can be reasonably priced to use. They also allow for better reproducibility and standardization of procedures. While all these applications are potentially interesting, there are serious limitations to adapting this technology into the mainstream of botanical supplements: 1) A serious limitation is the absence of standards for the botanicals and potential contaminants. Each molecular biology procedure requires a standard for each desired species to be tested. 2) Presently little effort has been made to standardize the procedures so they can be adapted by many labs and thus, the development of standards is also difficult. 3) Contamination must be defined. Molecular biology techniques can be very sensitive for the detection of a given contaminant, but it is probably an inefficient and expensive tool to characterize all contaminants. 4) The application of all procedures can be limited due to the quality of the products. Harvesting, storage, and processing of botanicals can have a very negative impact on the quality of the DNA, which can in some instances limit the use molecular biology tools. This presentation will provide more information on how molecular biology techniques can be used in the authentication of botanicals and the challenges facing the implementation of such techniques into routine analysis.

Last Modified: 06/22/2017
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