April 26 - Under sweeping new rules, botanists have made their first formal plant species identification solely through DNA sequencing. Prior to January 1, new plants had to be described by their visual characteristics in Latin. There are no Latin words to describe DNA results, so the technology could not be fully applied. But now, Latin is no longer required so the door is open to a faster and more efficient way to identify new species. Tara Cleary has more.
PLEASE NOTE: EDIT CONTAINS CONVERTED 4:3 MATERIAL Brunfelsia plowmaniana is a flowering shrub found in the Andes, on the west coast of South America. Until recently it was thought to be the same plant as Brunfelsia uniflora which is found in Eastern Brazil. But through DNA extraction and sequencing, like that being carried out in a lab at the New York Botanical Gardens, the plant is now known to be its own species. Michael Nee, curator of Systematic Botany at the Botanical Garden says he and fellow botanist Natalia Filipowicz were never convinced that the two were identical. SOUNDBITE: MICHAEL NEE, CURATOR, INSTITUTE OF SYSTEMATIC BOTANY, NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING: "Both of us had some doubts, because here in the Andes, way up at five, six, seven thousand feet is this shrub and then there's nothing in-between until you get almost over to the Atlantic Ocean in Eastern Brazil and there's another one that looks like it and they look very similar." Brunfelsia plowmaniana is the first plant species identified purely by the results of sequencing short DNA regions. The Europe-based members of the team analyzed and identified DNA samples of both plants using "barcoding" sequences. And with Latin no longer required as part of the plant description process, Nee says a new era of rapid and accurate identification has begun. SOUNDBITE: MICHAEL NEE, CURATOR, INSTITUTE OF SYSTEMATIC BOTANY, NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING: "Without a requirement for Latin describing this, we don't have to go through the rigmarole of having to invent a bunch of new terminology. The big breakthrough though, really was that now it is possible to say that this species differs from this species because they differ in these points on the DNA molecule." Thanks to another rule change, scientists can also publish new plant descriptions on-line instead of exclusively in print. Nee says the new rules are likely to help speed up the process of describing new species, a process that previously took decades in many cases. Meaning that some species could become extinct before being named. Nee has been collecting specimens in the eastern Andes of Bolivia for 27 years. He says he's excited by the new possibilities. SOUNDBITE: MICHAEL NEE, CURATOR, INSTITUTE OF SYSTEMATIC BOTANY, NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN, SAYING: "It's the explosion of collecting in certain areas of the world and the new techniques that we have that are really helping to find these things that we didn't know about before and some, in many ways, speeding up the discovery of new species." Species like Brunfelsia plowmaniana, the first new plant in botany's new world. Tara Cleary, Reuters.