It is a well established fact that Nigeria has a very rich biodiversity. It is a biodiversity country but also, has like many other countries in the developing world, where animals and plants are under great pressure and are in the danger of extinction, not just loss of habitat to the development but to the commercial development, poaching and inter illegal trafficking.
The biological diversity of every country is a valuable and vulnerable natural resource. Sampling, identifying and studying biological specimens are among the first steps towards protecting and benefitting from biodiversity.
The Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms, Barcoding, has proved to be an exciting new tool for taxonomic research. The DNA Barcode is a very short standardized DNA sequence in a well known gene. It provides a way to identify the species to which a plant, animal or fungus belong.
The DNA barcoding, if rightly applied, can be used to preserve national biodiversity by preventing the extinction of protected endangered species.
Noting the importance of protection and preservation of wildlife and plants (biodiversity), a leading Information and Communication (IT) Corporation, Google Incorporated, recently commenced training of Nigerian professionals on a new tool for identifying biological specimens and managing species diversity, DNA Barcoding.
Nigeria is one of the six countries that have been selected to be trained through the $3m grant by Google to an international initiative dedicated to supporting the development of DNA barcoding as a global standard for species identification, The Consortium for the Barcode of Life (CBOL). Other countries that will benefit from the grant include South Africa, Kenya, Mexico, Brazil and a country yet to be selected in Asia.
Speaking at the planning meeting for Nigeria’s participation, the Executive Secretary of the Consortium, Dr. David Scindel, said the project is to help participating countries to start using DNA evidence for prosecuting life against wild life, poachers and illegal traffickers of endangered species.
He said, “The project is to train participating countries on how to use DNA barcoding to prosecute illegal traffickers of endangered species who trade them as bush meat, pet trade, lodging or any illegal use of protected endangered species.”
According to him, “this meeting is bringing together researchers from museums, universities interested in biodiversity, molecular biologists, who have lab facilities, people from the ministry of environment, who are charged with protecting endangered species, most especially officials from the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), who are charged with prosecuting wild life crimes.
“All these people have different roles to play in the project, bringing together the taxonomy specimens from the museum, DNA laboratory and the enforcement officials.”
In a chat with LEADERSHIP, the Director General (DG) of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the coordinating center of the DNA Barcoding project in Nigeria, Prof. Bamidele Solomon, said the DNA Barcoding project, which was inspired by the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), treaty which Nigeria signed with other nations, was for the preservation of its wild life.
Bamidele said that Nigeria stands to benefit immensely from the project especially by regulating the activities of poachers and preservation of Nigeria’s wildlife.
He said, “Nigeria stands to benefit so much from this project in the sense that DNA Barcoding can be used to identify the unique sequence of each animal or plant. It can be used to protect and preserve our wild life and it can also be used to track and prosecute defaulters.”
According to him, “currently, the scandal going on in Europe where people are selling horse meat as beef is quite massive but with DNA Barcoding, people will be at liberty to choose whether they really want to eat horsemeat or not.”
He stated that Nigeria will soon commence the use of DNA Barcoding for enforcement and prosecution of defaulters.
“The first phase of the project is the series of meetings and training, which we are currently having. By July we will go into the second stage which basically involves laboratory experiments which may run for 2 or 3 years and afterwards we will go into massive enforcement,” he added.
In her remarks, the Programme Coordinator and Director, Environmental Biotechnology and Bioconservation Department, Dr. Christine Onyia, lamented that our wildlife and useful medicinal plants are disappearing.
“Our big mama’s are disappearing and some of our useful medicinal plants have been taken elsewhere, developed into very useful products. They take it from here, process it and return it back to us. So we’re losing and this is quite disheartening,” she lamented.
She opined that Nigeria stands to benefit a lot from DNA Barcoding in conserving and tracking what belongs to the nation.
According to her, “with this project, we can conserve our own bioresources or biodiversity so we can start benefitting from these things. We can track what belongs to us and we can sue people for it or even share the benefit.
“There is what is called benefit sharing, which basically means that if you take something from me and I have already barcoded it, then if you develop products out of it, we have to sign an agreement on how to share the benefit. So, you see Nigeria really stands to benefit a lot from this issue of DNA barcoding.”