ESR9: Genomic barcoding of the succulent plant genus Aloe in trade


PhD fellow Yannick Woudstra

Host Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Supervisor Olwen Grace

Co-supervisors Hugo de Boer, Caroline Howard, Nina Rønsted

Network training partner Martin Fritzsche

In short

Aloes are struggling in the desert! Not because of a lack of water but because of wild harvesting. Although Aloe vera has been dominating the market for decades, recently, trade is expanding to other species. But which ones? When we intercept plants at for example an international airport we often only get a leaf and we can't identify the plant from those looks. But every sample contains DNA! With a 'genomic barcode' there is no hiding anymore, we will be able to identify practically any Aloe sample. The challenge is designing this barcode, the main focus of this three-year-long research project. Finding out which species are being traded globally helps us locate areas where we should help in conservation. Many aloes have the potential to be useful to mankind but only a few have been studied in this regard. If they go extinct before we investigate them, we could not only lose iconic desert plants with medicinal properties but also the potential to help local economies in Africa grow.

Project description

The genus Aloe (Asphodelaceae) is one of the largest and most iconic succulent plant genera of the palaeotropical drylands. Aloe species support substantial horticulture and medicinal plant industries but are gravely threatened by unsustainable wild harvesting. Once harvested, Aloe leaves are difficult to identify using morphology and traditional DNA barcodes, making trade regulation and conservation of threatened Aloe species problematic. This project will investigate the application of extended barcodes developed by probe-based sequence capture. A probe set targeting some 500 genomic markers from transcriptome and whole genome sequences will be designed and it will be tested in a sampling of traded species and aloe-derived products. These data will be used to infer an evolutionary framework with which to explore the potential influence of the microbiome on the diversity of Aloe and assess evolutionary patterns in the uses of Aloe species.