One question I hear rather frequently from people interested in our work is: Once you finished cataloging all life what are you going to do with all that information? For someone who works with DNA Barcoding for almost 10 years it is rather easy to respond with a number of examples especially those we had in mind all along when we build our reference libraries. However, it is much better to refer to examples where DNA Barcoding libraries have already been put to good use:
Wales is the first nation in the world to have barcoded all of its native flowering plants and conifers, enabling the identification of any plant species in Wales from the tiniest fragment of leaf, seed or pollen grain. In total 98% of the Welsh native flora (1143 species) has DNA barcodes for rbcL and 90% for rbcL and matK. The creation of this reference library was already reported in PLoS ONE about two years ago.
In a joint project between the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Cardiff University researchers started to work with honey. They collected honey from across the UK to see if it contains antibiotic elements. If any is found, DNA Barcoding was used to determine what plants bees visited to make it. The antibiotic elements of honey are known for many years, and honey was used in wound dressings as long ago as the Middle Ages:
The antibacterial effects of Honey have been observed for over a century and it has been widely used as a therapeutic addition to wound dressings. The activity of honey is due to a range of factors which include the hyper-osmotic properties of the sugar, the production of hydrogen peroxide by natural enzymatic reactions, metabolic byproducts such as Methylglyoxal (MGO), bee derived peptides and phyto-chemicals donated by the plants. The contribution of these phyto-chemicals to the overall antimicrobial activity of a particular honey will depend on the properties of the plants visited by the bees. For example Manuka honey from New Zealand is produced by allowing bees to forage on the Manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium) a plant which produces a compound called Leptospermone which has potent antibacterial activity.
The search will also be part of the science and technology exhibitions at this year's National Eisteddfod in Llanelli. The Eisteddfod is one of the world’s largest cultural festivals, held during the first week of August every year attracting about 150 000 visitors. Welsh Beekeepers are know being asked to send in samples of their honey to see if it contains antibiotic elements. They traditionally present their honey products on the festival and now they can either take a 200 g honey sample to the Eisteddfod or send it beforehand. The hope is to find antibacterial phyto-chemicals, to identify the plant source, and to subsequently create a special honey by allowing the bees to forage on plants that provide high antibacterial properties.