Forensic genetics

Similar DNA-based methods as described above can also be highly useful in forensic investigations, concerning for instance illegal trading or release of preserved species.

Using DNA barcoding, we can aid border control in determining whether the food, plants or animals that cross international borders are indeed what they are claimed to be. Possible applications include assessments whether a certain plant or animal is of a species preserved under international legislations (e.g. CITES). A recent example concerned the detection of hairs of preserved Eurasian badgers in a batch of shaving brushes. When dealing with a certain preserved species, measures of genetic relatedness can help to assess whether an individual or biological product indeed originates from the claimed region (e.g. detection of illegal logging by source tracking of tropical wood), or whether certain individuals may have been illegally introduced into a wild native population (e.g. introduction of game species for hunting).

Example: Verifying the origin of hair used in shaving brushes

The Eurasian badger (Meles meles) is included in Appendix III of the Bern Convention (Council of Europe 1979) and protected by national laws in many European countries. Badger hair is used in the manufacturing of luxury shaving brushes and it is frequently argued that the hair used is from the Hog badger (Arctonyx collaris), which is native to South-East Asia and is therefore no protected species. Alterra was asked to study the origin of the hair in some brushes sold in the Netherlands. For this we cooperated with Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain. Genetic results showed that the hairs from four brushes were from Eurasian badgers of both European and Asian origins, indicating a likely illegal trade in badger hair for the manufacturing of brushes sold in Europe.