Plant DNA speaks English, identifies new species

March 23rd, 2012 in Biology / Plants & Animals
This is the type specimen of Brunfelsia plowmaniana. Like classical barcodes can be used for identifying documents or objects, the DNA barcode reveals the identity of an organism: Brunfelsia plowmaniana. The QR code leads to the Wikipedia entry for the new species. Credit: Susanne Renner


This is the type specimen of Brunfelsia plowmaniana. Like classical barcodes can be used for identifying documents or objects, the DNA barcode reveals the identity of an organism: Brunfelsia plowmaniana. The QR code leads to the Wikipedia entry for the new species. Credit: Susanne Renner

The important changes to the way scientists name new plants that took effect on 1 January 2012 included the fall of the so-called Latin requirement - a stipulation that descriptions or diagnoses of new species had to be in Latin.

The new rules make it possible to take full advantage of an ongoing revolution in how and mycologists verify that a particular species is indeed new to science: Many studies now routinely include the sequencing of short DNA regions that will amplify easily, even when the DNA comes from old .

Such "barcoding" can be used to confirm a suspected new species as long as related species that already have a scientific name are also being sequenced for the same DNA stretch.

This images shows nucleotide differences in a short non-coding region of plastid DNA, such as typically used in plant barcoding. The lower two species are closely related and only differ in the A (Adenine) in position 2 from the left, while the top species is more distantly related and shows numerous differences. Credit: Susanne Renner

There is no standard Latin vocabulary for describing , yet in English, there is.

In an article in the open access journal PhytoKeys, botanists Natalia Filipowicz (Medical University of Gdańsk), Michael Nee (New York Botanical Garden), and Susanne Renner (University of Munich), now provide the first English-language diagnosis of a new species that relies exclusively on DNA data.

This is a leaf of the related species Brunfelsia unifolia, whose DNA barcode differs from that of Brunfelsia plowmaniana. Credit: Susanne Renner

Their publication of a new species in the Solanaceae genus Brunfelsia also includes a traditional morphology-based description and pictures of the plant, but the researchers trust that "molecular diagnoses" will become a standard feature in future taxon descriptions.

The DNA sequences generated for the study have all been deposited in the public database GenBank, enabling other researchers to make use of them.

More information: Filipowicz N, Nee MH, Renner SS (2012) Description and molecular diagnosis of a new species of Brunfelsia (Solanaceae) from the Bolivian and Argentinean Andes. PhytoKeys 10: 25-36. doi: 10.3897/phytokeys.10.2558

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"Plant DNA speaks English, identifies new species." March 23rd, 2012. http://phys.org/news/2012-03-dna-english-species.html