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Super Cool DNA Technology Could Save Trees from Illegal Logging

Super Cool DNA Technology Could Save Trees from Illegal Logging

In the past few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of awareness about our food system and where the things we eat really come from. People are learning the difference between what’s sold in the grocery store and what’s grown on a farm down the road.

Tools to track food, from its source to the plate, are becoming popular and prove essential when there’s yet another outbreak of Salmonella. Now, a new effort seeks to use a similar technology to fight illegal logging all over the world.

“Illegal logging occurs in all types of forests,” reports the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), “across all continents, from Brazil to Canada, Cameroon to Kenya, and from Indonesia to Russia, destroying nature and wildlife, damaging communities and distorting trade.”

According to the WWF, increasing demand for timber, paper and derivative products (including packaging) are major drivers of the illegal logging trade. This illegal act can (and often does) happen when forests are cleared for plantations such as palm oil. However, in many areas, forests are illegally logged simply because local residents have no access to alternative sources of fuel.

DNA technology, most famously used to solve murder mysteries and determine paternity, is now being used to identify items made with illegally logged trees and track down those perpetrating the crime. Instead of relying on a dubious label to tell you whether or not a wood-based product was harvested sustainably, the wood itself would be able to tell you.

Andrew Lowe is a professor in plant conservation biology in University of Adelaide, Australia, and Chief Scientific Officer with a company called Double Helix that is leading the charge for development of tree DNA tracking technology. “DNA contains huge amounts of information that can be used for a multitude of applications,” reads the company’s website. “We focus on turning that potential into commercially viable services that support the responsible and sustainable use of forest resources.”

The company is engaged in a number of interesting projects, a including DNA spot-check system that could verify species and origin of timber supplies reverses this risk and restores control, and a unique timber certification system that uses DoubleHelix DNA technology to verify Chain-of-Custody documentation.

As Lowe explained to Mongabay.com, this DNA technology has already been implemented by regulators around the world. Currently ”there are two ongoing criminal investigations in the U.S. and Germany where prosecutors are using genetic analysis to substantiate claims of legality by timber suppliers. This approach sets an important legal precedent in the fight against illegal logging.”

 

Related Reading:

IKEA Accused Of Logging Old-Growth Forests

No Such Thing As Sustainable and Profitable Logging In The Rainforest

Amazon Loggers Caught In The Act

 

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103 comments

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7:47AM PDT on May 12, 2013

Wished the article mentioned specifically how DNAs were used to track down the sources of wood...

9:06PM PDT on May 7, 2013

interesting...thanks

7:24PM PDT on May 7, 2013

Re:
Kate R.
6:50AM PDT on May 5, 2013
Great idea. Producers of all products should have to prove that the item is safe, ethical & legal.

Your "Great Idea", Kate, turns a Great Principle on its head. Yes, the one that says: Innocent until proven Guilty. Have you worked a way around that?

7:24PM PDT on May 7, 2013

Re:
Kate R.
6:50AM PDT on May 5, 2013
Great idea. Producers of all products should have to prove that the item is safe, ethical & legal.

Your "Great Idea", Kate, turns a Great Principle on its head. Yes, the one that says: Innocent until proven Guilty. Have you worked a way around that?

6:06PM PDT on May 7, 2013

Thanks Beth for the very informative article and the great relevant links. Kudos to Mr. Lowe and Double Helix for their work!

1:48PM PDT on May 7, 2013

What a great idea!

12:47PM PDT on May 7, 2013

everyone should care, we need trees

9:30AM PDT on May 7, 2013

Who answered no? Shame on you!

5:52AM PDT on May 7, 2013

Thanks for posting.

4:14AM PDT on May 7, 2013

Thanks.

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