Oslo/Leiden, May 11th 2017 – A network of researchers in botany from leading institutes in Europe, including BaseClear, have been granted 4 million euros for the project Plant.ID on molecular identification of plants. The project will fund a training network for 15 doctoral students to collectively work on development of methods and practical tools for automated identification of plants using DNA sequences. The network includes universities, botanic gardens, natural history museums, industry, regulatory agencies and other stakeholders.

Many of the nearly 400,000 species of plants represent some of our most important biological resources and provide us with food, medicines and construction materials. Besides these positive impacts, plants also affect us negatively through pollen allergies, poisonous species, as invasive species, and as adulterants in herbal medicines. Nevertheless, plants are the most promising biological resource for our future. However, the current extinction threat faced by many plants species, in combination with taxonomic expertise in decline, demands accurate and rapid identification of plant species for the conservation of botanical biodiversity.

The Plant.ID project aims to develop molecular identification of plants through tailored approaches to species delimitation, metabarcoding, gene capture, and genomic barcoding, in order to empower stakeholders with simplified molecular identification of plants. Dr. Daniël Duijsings, head of R&D at BaseClear BV, outlines the commitment of BaseClear to this project: ‘This project is a great opportunity for us to improve the quality and significance of DNA-based plant identification. The knowledge of the partners on plant taxonomy combined with the latest sequencing technologies will eventually allow fast and accurate on-site identification and contribute significantly to our knowledge on plant evolution.’ Hugo de Boer, principal investigator of Plant.ID and Associate Professor at The Natural History Museum Oslo, adds: ‘Developing DNA technologies to robustly identify plants will have profound effects on illegal trade of timber, detection of allergenic pollen, monitoring alien invasive species and safety of herbal pharmaceuticals. This network will activate our natural history collections and address pressing global needs for taxonomic expertise in an age of massive biodiversity loss.’ Naturalis Biodiversity Center also participates in this project. Barbara Gravendeel, Associate Professor at Naturalis, explains: ‘Results will help refining important regulations on European Timber and Invasive Alien Species and the Water Framework Directive.’

The project is of outstanding scientific excellence and timely by making better use of museum collections through modernization of taxonomic plant research. Collaboration with European agencies to standardize activities related to plant identification will have a positive impact on society in terms of food safety and health issues. The project will fill the gap on the difficulties that taxonomists traditionally face on the job market through easily transferable skills in bioinformatics, modern laboratory techniques and integration in innovation driven research and will significantly improve European innovation capacity.

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