A University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Biology-led team is pioneering a method called DNA barcoding that can help protect wildlife from exploitation.
The UP Bio team spearheaded by Dr. Ian Kendrich Fontanilla, Adrian Luczon, and the late Dr. Perry Ong had been working to perfect the system since 2008.
According to a UP report on July 3, the new system of DNA barcoding “uses the molecular fingerprint of DNA found in even processed remains to accurately determine the specific species. This is done by reading selected genes like product barcodes against a database of samples collected, to aid both science and law enforcement.”
The UP Bio-led team is working on expanding the database to include all endemic species in the country, in the hope that the DNA barcoding can protect against illegal wildlife exploitation.
Dr. Fontanilla, head of the UP Institute of Biology‘s DNA Barcoding Laboratory, explains that the specific gene in DNA is one that facilitates easy identification. The copies of any collected gene are compared to the current contents of the database to find the most accurate match. “That’s what we do in DNA barcoding, we find a gene that can discriminate like that,” adds the director of the Philippine Genome Center’s (PGC) Biodiversity program.
Government agencies like the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are now also members of the DNA barcoding initiative.
The Philippines protects its local biodiversity, like that of world-renowned Palawan, through the Republic Act No. 9417, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act. However, Fontanilla says it is “difficult to uphold the law” as in the case of thousands of critically endangered Philippine pangolins harvested off Palawan and found frozen on board a Chinese vessel – the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had to resort to visual confirmation of the species.
The DNA Barcoding Laboratory and Ong’s Biodiversity Research Laboratory managed to determine that the 73 specimens confiscated in Puerto Princesa were indeed Philippine pangolins coming from a single locality.
To access the Barcode of Life Data System, visit: http://www.boldsystems.org
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