ESR8: Paleogenomic annotation of historical Cinchona bark samples across time and space

In short

Ever wonder what makes gin and tonic bitter? It's quinine! A chemical produced in the bark of Cinchona trees, which is my national tree. Once it was found that Cinchona bark could treat malaria, the quest for the best bark started. What my project aims is to bring back to life plant museum collections by identifying which species and places they belong to. In this way, we can solve the long-standing debate of the evolutionary history of Cinchona to know the diversity of these collections, including forests that no longer exist and to even unravel the trade routes of Cinchona bark in the past centuries.

Project description

With the emergence of ancient DNA techniques combined with high-throughput sequencing (paleogenomics), new opportunities for exploring and using natural history collections have emerged. Cinchona bark, the source of quinine for treatment of malaria, is an outstanding time referenced model system. We will use both modern samples across their geographical range, as well as unrivalled historical collections of about 1000 specimens documenting 150 years of collecting and breeding experiments including samples from forests that no longer exist as well as the chemically annotated collections of Howard & Sons. However, botanical and geographical origin of the historical samples was poorly recorded preventing us from utilizing these extensive collections until now. This project will generate paleogenomic data from historic Cinchona bark samples, use high-throughput sequencing to resolve the current phylogeny of the tribe Cinchoneae based on in-house modern geographically annotated samples to produce a framework allowing placing of the historical samples to species and geographical area, providing critical links for determining changes in the distribution of Cinchona forest over 200 years, including hundreds of chemically annotated historical samples of Howards & Sons in environmental correlation analysis, and determine the proportion of adulterated specimens in the historic collections.