A pioneering system that uses a plant’s DNA to identify and authenticate a species has been developed in Leicester. Experts from De Montfort University (DMU) have developed a method capable of detecting the use of illegal or counterfeit plants in medicine and could also be used to strengthen conservation by identifying and controlling the exploitation of endangered plant species.

Currently, species are identified by measuring the levels of chemical compounds in plants, but the same level of compounds can be present in a number of different species.

DNA identification relies on the genetic individuality of the species which is unique and therefore much more precise. The system, which is also faster and cheaper than current means of identification, can detect the presence of the expected plant species in a product as well as detect any adulterating material, thus showing whether the plant drug being tested is what it is. supposed to be.

Scientists working on the new method at DMU are currently focusing on authenticating plants used in complementary and alternative medicine. These drugs have grown in popularity in Europe and America in recent years, with 35% of UK adults using them.

The system has already been proven to work with St. John’s Wort, one of the most widely used herbal remedies in Europe and America, used to treat depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. It is also currently being tested on black cohosh, one of the best-selling herbal medicines, used to fight symptoms of menopause, menstrual cramps, arthritis, muscle pain and indigestion.

Over the past decade, black cohosh has been associated with a small number of cases of liver damage and other significant health problems, but upon inspection, it was suggested that side effects could result from the use of a substitute plant instead of the genuine plant.

The potential harm that could result from adulteration of herbal medicines is the driving force behind the UK Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency’s implementation of the EU Directive on Traditional Herbal Medicines .

This forces suppliers to register their products before selling them – a very long and expensive process. Using this DNA system could reduce the delay and provide a simpler method of demonstrating compliance with regulators.

Adrian Slater, professor of biomolecular technology at DMU, ​​is leading the research. He said: “The development of this test could revolutionize the way information is collected on different species and will allow better accuracy when plants are identified and authenticated.

“This could have huge implications for the billion pound herbal medicine market, because until the development of DNA testing, you couldn’t be sure what you were selling was the genuine product. greatly conserving plants and helping to identify and monitor threatened plant populations. ” The £ 50,000 research project is funded by East Midlands Healthcare and Bioscience iNet. It is hoped that the system will be available for use in 2015.

The research is being carried out at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences of DMU. Other highlights of research within the faculty include the development of an artificial pancreas, a test that can determine the amount of drug in the blood by a single drop of blood, and a tool that can help with detection. early skin cancer.

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Materials provided by University of Montfort. Note: Content can be changed for style and length.


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