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Biomed Environ Sci. 2014 Oct;27(10):794-806. doi: 10.3967/bes2014.115.

Prospects and Problems for Identification of Poisonous Plants in China using DNA Barcodes.

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College of Nature Conservation, Beijing Forestry University, Beijing 100083, China.
Institute of Botany, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China.
School of Agricultural Forestry and Environmental Sciences Forest Resources, Clemson University, South Carolina 29634, USA.
National Institute of Occupational Health and Poison Control, China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing 100050, China.



Poisonous plants are a deadly threat to public health in China. The traditional clinical diagnosis of the toxic plants is inefficient, fallible, and dependent upon experts. In this study, we tested the performance of DNA barcodes for identification of the most threatening poisonous plants in China.


Seventy-four accessions of 27 toxic plant species in 22 genera and 17 families were sampled and three DNA barcodes (matK, rbcL, and ITS) were amplified, sequenced and tested. Three methods, Blast, pairwise global alignment (PWG) distance, and Tree-Building were tested for discrimination power.


The primer universality of all the three markers was high. Except in the case of ITS for Hemerocallis minor, the three barcodes were successfully generated from all the selected species. Among the three methods applied, Blast showed the lowest discrimination rate, whereas PWG Distance and Tree-Building methods were equally effective. The ITS barcode showed highest discrimination rates using the PWG Distance and Tree-Building methods. When the barcodes were combined, discrimination rates were increased for the Blast method.


DNA barcoding technique provides us a fast tool for clinical identification of poisonous plants in China. We suggest matK, rbcL, ITS used in combination as DNA barcodes for authentication of poisonous plants.


DNA barcoding; DmatK; ITS; Poisonous plants; rbcL

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