Identifying Traditional Chinese Medicine Plants with DNA

Jenn Hoskins
3rd March, 2024

Identifying Traditional Chinese Medicine Plants with DNA

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Researchers in Japan developed DNA markers to identify a key medicinal root, Angelicae acutilobae radix
  • These markers can distinguish it from similar Chinese roots, ensuring correct use in traditional medicine
  • The technique helps prevent misidentification and maintains the efficacy of medicinal treatments
In traditional Japanese medicine, a specific type of root known as Angelicae acutilobae radix plays a critical role, particularly in treating women's health issues. This root, defined in the Japanese Pharmacopoeia XVIII, comes from the plant Angelica acutiloba. However, a recent challenge has emerged: the domestic production of this vital medicinal root in Japan is declining due to an aging farming population and shrinking rural communities. Consequently, imports from China are filling the gap. But there's a catch—the roots of Angelica acutiloba and those from similar Chinese medicinal plants, like Angelica sinensis, are tough to distinguish based on their looks and chemical makeup alone. To address this problem, researchers from Chubu University have made a significant breakthrough[1]. They've developed DNA markers that can accurately identify Angelicae acutilobae radix among other similar roots from Chinese Apiaceae plants, which includes the commonly used Angelicae sinensis radix. This development is crucial because, while these roots are used in traditional medicines, they each have specific applications and cannot be used interchangeably. The study at Chubu University builds upon previous research that has highlighted the importance of DNA barcoding in authenticating medicinal plants[2]. DNA barcoding involves using a short genetic sequence from a standardized position in the genome as a species identifier. In the case of Angelicae acutilobae radix, the researchers focused on two specific regions of DNA: the chloroplast psbA-trnH intergenic spacer and the nuclear internal transcribed spacer regions. These areas have been previously identified as useful in distinguishing closely related plant species[3]. The significance of this research is amplified by the fact that Angelicae acutilobae radix and Angelicae sinensis radix are not just botanically similar but also have overlapping therapeutic uses. Both are known for their beneficial effects on gynecological disorders, among other health benefits[4][5]. Angelica sinensis, in particular, has a rich history of use in traditional Chinese medicine for blood invigoration and pain relief[5]. However, as the studies suggest, the quality and efficacy of these roots can differ based on their secondary metabolites and carbohydrates content[4]. The Chubu University study's approach of integrating DNA barcoding into the quality control process ensures that patients and practitioners can be confident in the authenticity of the medicinal roots they are using. This is especially important given the past issues with adulteration and misidentification of these products[2]. The precision of DNA markers means that even if the roots look the same and have similar chemical profiles, they can be told apart at the genetic level, ensuring that the right plant is used for the right purpose. In practical terms, this advancement in identification could have far-reaching implications for the traditional medicine industry. It could potentially streamline the quality assessment process, safeguard against the use of incorrect or adulterated ingredients, and protect consumers from ineffective or harmful treatments. Moreover, it could also aid in the conservation of these medicinal plants by allowing for better tracking and management of their sources. Overall, the research from Chubu University offers a promising solution to a growing problem in the field of traditional medicine. By combining the historical knowledge of these plants' uses with modern genetic techniques, the study provides a way to preserve the integrity and efficacy of traditional remedies well into the future.



Main Study

1) Identification of Angelica acutiloba, A. sinensis, and other Chinese medicinal Apiaceae plants by DNA barcoding.

Published 1st March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Identification of species and materia medica within Angelica L. (Umbelliferae) based on phylogeny inferred from DNA barcodes.

3) The tortoise and the hare II: relative utility of 21 noncoding chloroplast DNA sequences for phylogenetic analysis.

4) Comprehensive quality evaluation and comparison of Angelica sinensis radix and Angelica acutiloba radix by integrated metabolomics and glycomics.

5) Angelica sinensis in China-A review of botanical profile, ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry and chemical analysis.

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