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.”
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