Developing DNA for timber supply chain verification

Researchers at the University of Adelaide in partnership with InterpreData and DoubleHelix Tracking Technologies, Singapore, have been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Commonwealth Government’s Global Innovation Linkages Program to develop scientific origin verification tools for global timber supply chains.

Illegal logging is a major contributor to the global deforestation crisis. While government legislation can assist in preventing the importation of illegally logged wood, one of the biggest challenges lies in identifying the source of origin of timber.

“The research team will develop genetic markers, similar to DNA fingerprinting, for species of interest including, birch, ash, sandalwood and food items.”Dr Arif Malik

The project aims to enhance the development and application of scientific traceability tools for key timber, oil and food products, and to use this information, combined with that from public databases, to develop an online portal for supply chain verification and certification checks.

Dr Arif Malik, postdoctoral researcher and lab manager for the Advanced DNA, Identification and Forensic Facility (ADIFF) in the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences, said, “The research team will develop genetic markers, similar to DNA fingerprinting, for species of interest including, birch, ash, sandalwood and food items.

“All samples will be sent to ADIFF for analysis. The samples will be analysed to develop DNA and elemental profiles to assist in the creation of traceability tools for these key timber, oil and food products.”

Currently, the University’s ADIFF facility is one of two laboratories globally that have this capability.

The DNA genetic markers will be used in combination with a system to retrieve geographical data from repositories such as the Global Timber Tracking Network and other public databases. Along with an online interface incorporating supply chain mapping documenting the origin of materials used commercially across different companies, suppliers, and individuals within a supply chain.

A system of barcoding will also be developed for local species as a means of further differentiating between timber species and providing independently verified evidence to support product claims of origin, species and legality for shipments of timber.

Professor Andy Lowe, project lead from the University of Adelaide said, “These tools will be combined into an online portal that has the potential for commercialisation of a screening service to prove timber species and provenance origin.

“If we can commercialise the process and make it more accessible, we could reduce the risk of importation of timber from illegal sources by providing consumers with verifiable confirmation of where timber products came from.”

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