Plants are obviously essential to our survival and that of most other animals on earth but it is easy to overlook how they have become discretely embedded into our everyday lives; plants provide us with food, medicines, and raw materials used by our industries.

Despite their importance, very few of us could name more than a tiny fraction of the plants that surround us and while most of us could easily between a buttercup and a dandelion (provided both are in flower), only a hand full of experts could identify all 1600 native plants in the UK - and nobody is able to name all of the 250,000 or so plant species recorded world-wide.

Accurate plant identification on a large scale is vital if we are to protect the most biodiverse regions of the world. Equally, plant identification based on DNA could help in the search for new sources of pharmaceutical drugs, check ingredients in food and industrial products or provide a new source of forensics information for criminal investigations.

In a step towards addressing these needs, a consortium of scientists from the United Kingdom, the USA, Sweden and Syria have collaborated in the search for one or more short pieces of DNA code that could eventually be used in an automated fashion to reliably identify almost all land plant species.

This study has provided a short-list of six gene regions that are present across almost all land plants, suitable for use on processed food products and sufficiently variable in their code to allow separation of closely related species. The next step is to test these regions (and a small number of others identified previously) against a very large number of plants from throughout the world.

Article: CAROLINE S. FORD, KAREN L. AYRES, NICOLA TOOMEY, NADIA HAIDER, JONATHAN VAN ALPHEN STAHL, LAURA J. KELLY, NIKLAS WIKSTRÖM, PETER M. HOLLINGSWORTH, R. JOEL DUFF, SARAH B. HOOT, ROBYN S. COWAN, MARK W. CHASE, MIKE J. WILKINSON, 'Selection of candidate coding DNA barcoding regions for use on land plants', Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 159
1  1-11 2009 DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8339.2008.00938.x