What do barcodes have to do with DNA? Here’s what: DNA barcoding is one of the methods biologists use to segregate species of animals and plants into separate groups on the basis of shared characteristics. An organism’s species can be identified through this method by looking at a short DNA sequence in the genome, which is an organism’s complete set of DNA. And what do Pakistanis have to do with it? They have developed a genetic barcode system which may be used to identify medicinally important halophytes (salt tolerant plants) very efficiently all over the world. This impressive research by scientists is the doctorate thesis of Uzma Munir under the supervision of Dr Qamarunnisa and Dr Anjum Parveen, from Dr A Q Khan Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (KIBGE) at Karachi University.
In order to go about their research, these scientists collected different species of genus, Suaeda or Sea Blite. Additionally, they gathered different samples from places in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab with the aim of finding a common DNA sequence in them to develop a bar code that could be used to recognise all halophytes. The results reported a similarity in the rbcl and ITS region of these plants, or in English, they had found a DNA sequence common in all species of Suaeda which was then branded as the DNA barcode. Most of us have never heard of Suaeda. It is a plant whose various species are used for numerous purposes ranging from making medicines such as ointments and traditional medicines for hepatitis, to baking soda in our kitchens, to fuel and fodder.
“Suaeda is a highly variable species that lives in an extremely challenging and variable environment. DNA barcoding of this plant is a very interesting subject. It can be used for clear cut identification of a species which is not generally possible by classical taxonomy.” – Dr. Bilquees Gul, the Head of the Institute of Sustainable Halophytes Utilization (ISHU) at Karachi University.
Due to its wildly ranging appearance throughout its life, expert taxonomists are sometimes perplexed between the different species of Suaeda. Well, not anymore. By Zohaa Wajid NSS-Executive Publications