Environmental forensics can assess the origin of various biological products, such as timber, in an attempt to combat illegal harvesting.
Researchers are developing ways to assess whether wood products come from sustainable plantation or are illegally logged from a protected area.
Illegal logging causes societal and environmental degradation in tropical forests, including income loss for indigenous communities, release of greenhouse gases, and loss of that area's biodiversity. Researchers from the Environment Institute are working with Singapore-based company Double Helix Tracking Technologies to develop ways to assess whether wood products come from sustainable plantation or are illegally logged from a protected area.
Widespread genetic mapping of the world's forest and plantations means DNA analysis can be conducted on timber products such as lumber and timber decking. Advances in the technology means it's even possible to use DNA from older samples of wood and from products such as wood chips and furniture. The analysis allows the precise source of the product to be tracked right back to the forest from where they came. Large-scale screening of wood DNA can now be done cheaply, quickly and reliably, with a statistical certainty acceptable in court of law.
Image: Professor Andrew Lowe analyses DNA from timber.
By producing a range of DNA methods for timber products from African tropical forests, the technology can soon be promoted for critical regions such as the Congo Basin and help tighten control on illegally logged products in Europe and North America.
Timber importers in Australia and globally want to know the source of the timber they handle. Being able to accurately and quickly track any timber used provides peace of mind for regulators, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and their customers so that they can better market track supply chains and choose their products.