Tracking the wood through the trees

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Around ten percent of wood imported into Australia comes from illegally logged forests – those situated outside designated logging areas or within protected forests. Illegal logging threatens forest biodiversity worldwide, and therefore identifying illegal wood and wood products is a matter of immediate interest to biodiversity and conservation.

Professor Andy Lowe recently joined forces with Doublehelix Tracking Technologies, an applied genetics company in Singapore, to use the latest advances in molecular technology to combat illegal forest logging. Using a DNA profile, a species of tree can be identified from a wood sample – which can then be tracked and traced to their source. The main advance in this recent work is the ability to use DNA from older samples of wood and from products such as wood chips and furniture. “Molecular marker methods have been applied to freshly cut wood for some time, and it’s now possible to extract and use genetic material from wood products,” Professor Lowe explains.

The established procedures and statistical certainty associated with this procedure now means that results can be used in a court of law to prosecute those engaging in illegal logging. “These methods can also be applied at customs entry points to the country – certification documents can be falsified, but DNA cannot.” adds Professor Lowe. The methodology has already identified instances where merbau timber was being sold as sourced sustainably from Papau, when in fact it was sourced, unsustainably, from Java or Sumatra.

DoubleHelix, in conjunction with international partners, now hopes to promote the use of this technology to critical regions including the Congo Basin, and to help tighten control on illegally logged products in Europe and North America.

New timber tracking tools to bolster global fight against illegal logging’ Forest News – Centre for International Forest Research, May 2012

DNA detectives aim to thwart illegal timber trade’ New Scientist, 28th Sept 2011

Two research papers on this topic have recently been published:
Lowe AJ, Cross HB (2011) The Application of DNA to Timber Tracking and Origin Verification. Journal of the International Association of Wood Anatomists 32(2): 251-262;

Lowe AJ, Wong KN, Tiong Y-S, Iyerh S, Chew F-T (2010) A DNA Method to Verify The Integrity of Timber Supply Chains; Confirming The Legal Sourcing of Merbau Timber From Logging Concession to Sawmill. Silvae Genetica 59: 263-268).


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