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GreenWood, in partnership with Fundación Madera Verde, Dr. Brook Milligan of New Mexico State University, and the United States Forest Service, is coordinating a pilot study of the optimal method for collecting bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) DNA, drawing samples from trees harvested near the communities of Copén, El Venado and Limoncito in the Sico-Paulaya region of Northeastern Honduras. Wood samples from trunks and branches, leaves, and herbarium samples (a stem with two leaves, flower or fruit) have been collected and will be sent to the New Mexico State University genetics lab for analysis, pending approval of legal permits.
Such a study could have significant practical implications. Darren Thomas, Managing Director of DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies—a Singapore-based firm specializing in applied genetics for forestry—has raised the prospect of creating “genetic checkpoints” for internationally-traded wood products, in which wood of suspect origin could be tested genetically to determine if the DNA corresponds to legal claims of species and provenance. DNA testing could thus provide another tool for the enforcement of internal forestry laws and international regulations, such as CITES and the United States Lacey Act. Additionally, mahogany genetics could help us understand and perhaps even address timber-quality issues, such as persistent heart-rot, which has caused up to a fifty percent loss of standing timber from otherwise-healthy trees in some communities. Data and funding are only preliminary, but the potential is exciting. Stay tuned…
Chart Caption: Price drop in sequencing cost per genome, 2001-2011. Moore’s Law anticipated a precipitous decline in the cost of computer power. Credit: National Human Genome Research Institute.