Why do we need to identify medicinal materials from natural sources?
Medicinal materials from natural sources have been used for centuries in China and other countries. They have been recognized as particularly suitable for treating modern diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, asthma and other long-term illnesses. Substitutes and adulterants are often introduced intentionally or accidentally, thus seriously interfering with their therapeutic effects, even leading to life-threatening poisoning. In 1989, two people in Hong Kong suffered serious neuropathy and encephalopathy after consuming a broth made with the roots of Podophyllum hexandrum, a toxic herb mistaken as Gentiana rigescens. In 2001, 63 people in the Netherlands reported symptoms of general malaise, nausea and vomiting following consumption of an herbal tea, with Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) mixed in the product. Aristolochic acid nephropathy has also been reported in Hong Kong, Korea and Belgium due to the erroneous substitution with herbs containing aristolochic acids. From March 2004 to May 2006, it was reported 10 cases of aconite poisoning in Hong Kong were reported. In four of them, the aconite herb was not listed in the written prescription. In 2008, a woman in Singapore suffered from antimuscarinic poisoning consuming brew made with Datura metel, which is a toxic herb mistaken as Rhododendron molle.
DNA barcoding of medicinal materials
Medicinal materials are traditionally identified by their organoleptic characteristics and other physical properties. However, the differences among related species are sometimes too minute. Chemical analyses may be affected by the physiological and the storage conditions. With the advancement of molecular biology, DNA barcoding has now become a popular means for identification and authentication of plant and animal species. We have established this DNA barcode database for users to retrieve and analyze DNA sequences of medicinal materials. This website includes DNA sequences and information and key references of the medicinal materials recorded in the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia and other related references. Relevant information of common adulterants and substitutes are also listed. This database provides a web-based platform for storage, retrieval, comparison and analysis of DNA sequences, for distinguishing medicinal materials from their common substitutes and adulterants.
Applications on taxonomy and identification
Advisor: Prof. Paul P.H. But
Maintained by: TinHang Wong, Grace But & Karen Wu
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