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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


Flood, drought and disease tolerant -- one gene to rule them all

An international collaboration between researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Nagoya University and the University of Western Australia has resulted in a breakthrough in plant biology. Since 2014, the researchers have worked on identifying the genetic background for the improved flood tolerance observed in rice, wheat and several natural wetland plants. In a New Phytologist, article, the researchers describe the discovery of a single gene that controls the surface properties of rice, rendering the leaves superhydrophobic.

Plants overcome hunger with the aid of autophagy

Researchers at Tohoku University have found that plants activate autophagy in their leaf cells to derive amino acids that are used for survival under energy-starved "hunger" conditions. The findings show that amino acid utilization in plants can be controlled by the manipulation of autophagy.

The Alps are home to more than 3,000 lichens

Historically, the Alps have always played an emblematic role, being one of the largest continuous natural areas in Europe. With its numerous habitats, the mountain system is easily one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in Europe.