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Decoding the fingerprints of trees through their DNA

Author(s):

Andrea Watts

Year:

2022

Publication type:

Science Findings

Primary Station(s):

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Source:

Science Findings 250. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 6 p.

Description

In the United States, the forest products industry loses an estimated $500 million to $1 billion annually to illegal logging. Once illegally harvested wood is removed from the forest, it’s difficult for USDA Forest Service law enforcement to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the wood was illegally harvested. The use of DNA is a recent development that can help law enforcement determine if wood is illegally sourced.

Researchers Rich Cronn and Laura Hauck with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station developed DNA forensic protocols to evaluate bigleaf maple wood products so that tree DNA is admissible in court. The U.S. Department of Justice used their work to successfully prosecute the illegal harvest of bigleaf maple from the Olympic National Forest. The researchers are expanding forensic tools for other high-value targets of timber theft by collaborating with federal law enforcement, nongovernmental organizations, and citizen scientists to build genomics databases for the species most frequently targeted by timber thieves.

Cronn and Hauck are also exploring other applications for using wood and leaf DNA. For example, this method can determine if trees are clones or genetically different. This information aids in seed collection, enables better tracking of trees grown in breeding trials, and can be used to identify sources of nonlocal trees planted during large-scale reforestation that followed the Hebo and Tillamook Burns in the Oregon Coast Range in the early 20th century.

Citation

Watts, Andrea; Cronn, Richard; Hauck, Laura. 2022. Decoding the fingerprints of trees through their DNA. Science Findings 250. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 6 p.

Publication Notes

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  • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/64586