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Portable DNA lab kits can help stop illegal wildlife trafficking

Illegal plant and animal trafficking poses a major problem for both the safety of animals and the surrounding environments. Not only do some traffickers move parts from threatened or endangered animals, but wildlife traffickers also risk introducing invasive species to non-native habitats.

To further complicate matters, customs officials cannot always immediately identify the animals or plants that are making their way out of the country.

“Many threatened animals and plants are trafficked out of developing countries, which do not have adequate resources to combat these crimes,” said Mr. Sujeevan Ratnasingham, Informatics Director at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics.

Wildlife traffickers are also as evasive as possible so as not to get caught.

When it comes to organic material, often customs officials send samples to a laboratory to tell what animal or plant it is, but getting the results can take days.

Rapid identification of plants and animals at ports of entry could have a significant impact in reducing illegal wildlife trafficking and keeping invasive species out.

The International Barcode of Life project identified the need for quick and accurate identification at ports of entry and have developed the LAB-IN-A-BOX portable DNA barcoding Kit.

“By coupling the power of DNA barcoding to identify species with portability, LAB-IN-A-BOX makes it possible for anyone to identify any species anywhere,” said Paul Herbert, Founder of the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Project. “It is certain to improve our capacity to care for the species that not only enliven our planet, but provide essential ecosystem services.”

The LAB-IN-A-BOX has two goals, to provide customs officials with a means of rapid detection of plants and animals, and to help implement swifter enforcement and prosecution for those who traffick in illegal wildlife.

The LAB-IN-A-BOX uses a database of DNA barcodes that officials can compare samples to and identify what the sample is. It can even identify samples within just a few hours.

The project will first be introduced at ports of entry in Africa, and the creators are hopeful about the kit’s impact on reducing wildlife trafficking and improving species conservation.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

Image Credit: David Dennis, at WikiMedia Commons

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