DNA Verified Origin – Proof of Concept

This project was funded by the Singapore Government through the enterprise development agency Spring. The project was an important step to demonstrate to industry, governments and NGOs the benefits of DNA timber testing. The project focused on merbau (instia spp.), a high-value timber species found in S.E. Asia.

The project successfully pushed forward the capabilities of genetic testing for timber products. This was the first time that a genographic map was developed with the ability to differentiate between forestry concessions in the same country. Samples were taken from five forestry concessions in Papua, Indonesia and the DNA of each sample analysed to build a picture of the variation in the genetic profile of the species in the different concessions.

It was also the first time that DNA was extracted and analysed from wood products that had been subjected to kiln drying. It was then possible to match the DNA from the wood products to the genetic reference database of five concessions and verify which concession the timber was harvested. The implication is that DNA testing can now be conducted at any stage of the supply chain and can be used to verify claims of origin required by law in an increasing number of countries.

Since then, the reference database of merbau has been extended to include samples from Malaysia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and a number of Pacific islands. Since merbau is commonly smuggled illegally out of Indonesia and the country of harvest misdeclared, this database has immediate benefits to industry to reduce the risk associated with trade in merbau products, and to governments in the enforcement and prosecution of illegal timber smuggling.