Published on 5 September 2013
University of the Sunshine Coast plant scientist Dr Alison Shapcott was in the spotlight in Brisbane yesterday when Queensland’s Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Ian Walker praised the value and progress of her research.
Dr Shapcott, a Senior Lecturer in Vegetation and Plant Ecology and member of USC’s GeneCology Research Centre, joined the Minister’s visit to the Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-tha to provide an update on her collaborative project with the Queensland Herbarium and the Smithsonian Institution in America.
Mr Walker said the project to create DNA barcodes for all 870 species of south-east Queensland’s rainforest trees, shrubs, vines and herbs would cut the time it took to identify unknown plants and plant by-products.
“DNA barcodes will help quarantine officers, forensic investigators, land owners and others who need to quickly and accurately identify unknown plants and plant parts that may be poisonous, prohibited or legally protected,” he said.
“This is great work that demonstrates Queensland’s science capabilities and strengths and confirms the value of international collaborations.”
Dr Shapcott has so far extracted and sequenced the DNA of 775 species in south-east Queensland, leaving fewer than 100 species to complete.
She was awarded a Queensland-Government-Smithsonian Fellowship in 2012 to spend half the year in the institution’s laboratories in Washington DC.
“I was able to achieve a lot in a short time by working alongside the Smithsonian researchers who perfected the extraction and sequencing of plant DNA barcodes and Queensland Herbarium botanists who are experts on the state’s flora,” she said.
“We’ve generated a unique, three-gene DNA barcode for most species which will be shared by global databases.”
Dr Shapcott said tests had shown the Conondale Ranges and the Scenic Rim sub-regions had the highest species diversity while the Stanthorpe and Tenterfield plateaus were considerably less diverse but still quite distinct.
She will return to the Smithsonian next month to follow up the project.
“I think the Government’s support is fantastic both for this research and for USC,” she said. “Next year I expect to have an Honours student working on this project on campus at Sippy Downs to help finalise it.”
September is National Biodiversity Month and 7 September is National Threatened Species Day.
— Julie Schomberg