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Forensic Sci Int. 2002 Apr 18;126(2):137-44.

An extremely sensitive species-specific ARMS PCR test for the presence of tiger bone DNA.

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Forensic Science Service, R&D, Trident Court, Birmingham Business Park, Solihull B37 7YN, UK.


The survival of the tiger (Panthera tigris) is seriously threatened by poaching to provide raw materials for traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs). Most highly prized are the tiger's bones, which are used in combination with other animal and plant derivatives in pills and plasters for the treatment of rheumatism and other ailments. Hundreds of patent remedies have been produced which claim to contain tiger bone, but proof of its presence is needed if legislation prohibiting the trade in endangered species is to be enforced.A highly sensitive tiger-specific real-time PCR assay has been developed to address this problem. Using primers specific to the tiger mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, successful amplification has been reliably achieved from blood, hair and bone as well as from a range of TCMs spiked with 0.5% tiger bone. Although capable of detecting fewer than 10 substrate molecules, the seven varieties of TCM pills and plasters tested showed no detectable trace of tiger DNA before spiking. Furthermore, sequencing several "tiger bone" fragments seized from TCM shops has shown that they actually originated from cattle and pigs. The potential effects of traditional bone preparation methods, evidence that much lower concentrations are used than alleged on TCM packaging, and substitution of bones from other species all suggest a low likelihood of detecting tiger DNA in patent medicines. Despite this, the basic methods have been thoroughly proven and can be readily applied to derivatives from other Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) protected species, providing a rapid and highly sensitive forensic test for species of origin. Potential applications to the monitoring of wild populations are demonstrated by the successful identification of shed hairs and faecal samples.

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