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  • Poster presentation
  • Open Access

P01.37. The use of DNA barcoding for identification of medicinal plant products: an example from plants used in the Southern Texas-Mexico border region

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BMC Complementary and Alternative MedicineThe official journal of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research (ISCMR)201212 (Suppl 1) :P37

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  • Supply Chain
  • Medicinal Plant
  • Border Region
  • Extensive Collection
  • Poisoning Accident


DNA barcoding generates a unique identification tag for individual species based on the sequence of a short stretch of DNA. For this study we evaluated the potential of DNA barcoding methods for identification of medicinal plants using examples from the Lower Rio Grande Valley border region in Texas. Many plants that enter the supply chain are not evaluated for correct identification and better and faster methods are needed for identification of fragmented samples.


We sequenced several genomic regions, both nuclear and chloroplast, in order to assess variability and ability to identify highly fragmented plant material or otherwise incomplete specimens. Unidentified samples were compared with data available in Genbank and with an extensive collection of known reference materials.


We successfully used phylogenetic techniques for correct placement of the unidentified samples and potential applications for this method are discussed. We compare this method with the Genbank-BLAST search technique that is widely used for sequence matching.


In conclusion, DNA barcoding can be effectively used as an identification method for medicinal plant preparations that allows fast and efficient control for distributors, provides information to customers, and, in case of a poisoning accident, might aide in determining correct treatment and countermeasures. Our studies also showed that comprehensive databases for reference materials need to be carefully assembled and curated to provide reliable information for comparisons. Currently existing databases do not fulfill this requirement leading to potential misidentifications.

Authors’ Affiliations

University of Texas, Brownsville, Brownsville, USA


© Schwarzbach and Aguilar; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012

This article is published under license to BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.