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Molecular techniques to assess, conserve and use biodiversity

Advances in molecular techniques such as DNA sequencing, data analysis and PCR have resulted in powerful techniques which can be used for the screening, characterization and evaluation of genetic diversity. The EU's RTD programme in the field of Biotechnology (BIOTECH) is curr...

Advances in molecular techniques such as DNA sequencing, data analysis and PCR have resulted in powerful techniques which can be used for the screening, characterization and evaluation of genetic diversity. The EU's RTD programme in the field of Biotechnology (BIOTECH) is currently funding several research projects in this field, which may prove invaluable in the study and conservation of biodiversity. A current study aims to develop, optimize and validate molecular techniques, covering a wide range of plant and animal species and to ensure that maximum benefits are gained from developments in any one area. The project proposes to develop applicable technologies for wide-scale genetic diversity screening and to validate the use of molecular tools by testing their application in a selection of genetic diversity problems, relating to different end-users including botanical gardens, gene banks and plant breeding companies. The project, which commenced in December 1996 (to run for a period of three years), has already identified a new technique for extracting and identifying variations in plant DNA. This technology is now available in two kits, called DNeasy and RNeasy, which make it possible to isolate both plant and fungal DNA and RNA from fresh, dried or frozen samples. This represents a key step in using molecular techniques to identify plant tissue. Another important dimension to the project is the involvement of several European research teams, who worked together, deciding common research methodologies, to produce the technology required. This should ensure a more standardized approach to research and has resulted in the Biotechnology for Biodiversity Platform, which will provide a dynamic framework for interchange between users and producers of newly-developed technologies.