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Illegal trade of orchids uncovered by genetic detective work

Salep is a popular drink in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East based on ground dried orchid roots. Although harvesting wild orchids is prohibited in many countries, it is still practised with little discrimination on what species are actually picked. Combined with a renewed interest in organic food and thereby increased demand for orchids, unsuspecting consumers risk getting threatened species in their drinks. Researchers are now able to accurately determine what species are used in commercial products using molecular identification or so- called DNA barcoding, an important new tool for plant conservation.

The research team behind the current study, led by Hugo de Boer at the Natural History Museum (University of Oslo), not only revealed illegal trade with wild orchids, but also concluded that many products do not even contain what is stated on the label. "We were surpriced to find that most of the products are a hoax, not containting orchids at all", says de Boer.

De Boer and his team now utilise the same method to scrutinise the content of other commercial products, like pharmaceutical products and dietary supplements. "With our specialization in molecular identification of plants we now lead a EU project that focuses on the identification of pollen, algae, medicine and import of tropical timber", adds de Boer.

Read the paper: DNA metabarcoding of orchid-derived products reveals widespread illegal orchid trade.

Article source: Natural History Museum, University of Oslo.

Image credit: Anna Kreziou


Plant mothers 'talk' to their embryos via the hormone auxin

While pregnancy in humans and seed development in plants look very different, parallels exist -- not least that the embryo develops in close connection with the mother. In animals, a whole network of signals from the mother is known to influence embryo development. In plants, it has been clear for a while that maternal signals regulate embryo development. However, the signal itself was unknown -- until now. Plant scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), Central European Institute of Technology (CEITEC) and the University of Freiburg have now found that a plant hormone, called auxin, from the mother is one of the signals that pattern the plant embryo. Their study is published in Nature Plants.

Archaeologists discover bread that predates agriculture by 4,000 years

At an archaeological site in northeastern Jordan, researchers have discovered the charred remains of a flatbread baked by hunter-gatherers 14,400 years ago. It is the oldest direct evidence of bread found to date, predating the advent of agriculture by at least 4,000 years. The findings suggest that bread production based on wild cereals may have encouraged hunter-gatherers to cultivate cereals, and thus contributed to the agricultural revolution in the Neolithic period.

Climate change-induced march of treelines halted by unsuitable soils

New research from the University of Guelph is dispelling a commonly held assumption about climate change and its impact on forests in Canada and abroad.