Professor Adrian Linacre of Flinders University is part of the team that is developing forensic DNA technology. It is needed to thwart the global black market for exotic animals from flourishing. The work of a test with such a complex substance as ivory is especially important with investigations, scientists emphasize in an article for the International Journal of Legal Medicine.
Ivory, which is a tooth in its structure, contains only a tiny amount of DNA. However, Professor Linacre said the new testing procedure is able to work with a small amount of bound DNA to produce results with perfect accuracy.
The elephant population has declined dramatically, mainly due to the illegal extraction of ivory. Although trade in such products is protected by national CITES laws and agreements to prevent further population decline, poaching and illegal trade in ivory persist.
A number of loopholes help businesses grow. For example, the ivory trade of African elephants is illegal in Thailand. However, the law allows the possession of Asian elephant ivory with permission from the authorities. It is difficult to identify the required differences with tests alone.
“This means that in order to ensure compliance with the law, it is necessary to classify the legal status of the seized ivory products,” explains Professor Linacre. “For this purpose, previously used methods based on DNA tests. But they have a detection limit for genetic material and are not suitable for highly degraded samples. Now the new technology has taken a big step forward. ”
The tiny amounts of DNA contained in the tusks made it very difficult to trace the origin of ivory goods. Most of the poaching ivory goes to Asia and is quickly broken into small pieces, mostly for jewelry and knickknacks that can be easily resold. This makes it difficult to trace DNA easily or accurately.
However, the new process could confirm the legal or illegal status of the seized ivory samples, even if the DNA is expected to be severely degraded.
In these tests, DNA from aged ivory was tested for reproducibility, specificity, importantly, sensitivity. Blind testing of 304 samples resulted in 100% identification accuracy. This also led to the correct assignment of legal status to 227 highly degraded, aged ivory in the study cohort, highlighting the high sensitivity of the process.
“The result of these successful trials will have international implications for illegal ivory trafficking and poaching in general,” the study author concludes. “The new DNA testing methodology will be useful for analyzing ivory samples in wildlife forensic laboratories and ultimately help identify hotspots where poaching is rampant.”