DNA banking assists SANBI in partially meeting its mandate to support collections of biodiversity. The aim is for researchers around the world to be able to access the database and submit requests for material.
Herpetological Tissue Bank
To ensure that genetic material is available and that biodiversity resources remain within South Africa, the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s (SANBI) Herp Tissue Bank was founded in 2005. With the establishment of this resource, various tissue samples collected all over Southern Africa have become an important source for present and future research.
All tissues are preserved in 99% ethanol and stored in a -40°C freezer. Many species have multiple representatives from several localities, which will assist in studies aimed at understanding geographic variation.
The information that accompanies the tissues is equally important for the research being conducted. It is therefore vital that all collectors take precise notes of what is being collected as this information will be entered into the database and made available to researchers. Some of the important information includes genus, species, locality, GPS co-ordinates, collector name, date, tissue type, corresponding voucher, and interesting observations.
One of the most beneficial reasons for having the Herp Tissue bank based in South Africa is that the biodiversity resource can be retained nationally and be easily accessible to researchers.
Tissue banks also complement conservation strategies whereby in situ conservation decisions can be assisted by genetic population level information. Banking genetic resources also provides a way to ensure that samples are available from a wide variety of locations, a strategy especially important given that some species could be difficult to sample depending on their distribution or if highly threatened in the wild.
Plant DNA Bank
In 2005 SANBI, in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, received funding from the UK Darwin Initiative to establish a ‘DNA bank’ that houses genetic material of South African plants. The Bio-prospecting, Access and Benefit Sharing policy is relevant to all parties that participate in transfer of specimens in and out of the country.
The project objectives included:
- Archive in a DNA bank the genetic material from at least one species of all ca. 2200 South African flowering plant genera
- Allow researchers to have access to plant DNA extracts to be used in applied and fundamental science
- Through collaboration with RBG Kew’s CBD Unit, to implement the necessary legal agreements for material transfer and benefit sharing of these genetic resources
- Train South African researchers and students in high-profile biotechnologies
- Produce a phylogenetic ‘tree of life’ of South African plant genera and identify areas of endemicity and high priority for conservation
The bank has approximately 5 000 plant extracts in storage, with duplicated samples at Kew Gardens, London.
The DNA bank is available to both national and international researchers as it is a global resource. The plant DNA collection has been accessed by researchers worldwide despite it not being marketed as a resource (most requests come via researchers first contacting Kew Gardens where the duplicates are stored). There is a charge (ZAR250 for international researchers, ZAR100 for national) for 30 ul of the plant extract. This is more of a processing fee as the DNA is extracted and processed by SANBI and the cost of that process must be recouped.
DNA studies have proven to be reliable in assisting, improving and refining taxonomy for a number of groups. However, the cost of field work associated with obtaining DNA samples can be extremely high. In addition, large gaps in sampling are common in many studies, possibly leading to incorrect or forced interpretation of results. To partially address this problem, SANBI has been banking DNA plant samples for target groups.