Identification of Saiga Horns Used in Traditional Chinese Medicines using DNA Barcoding Technology< Back
Article by Zhigang Jiang, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences & Endangered Species Scientific Commission of the People's Republic of China. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Article published in Saiga News Issue 20 on page 26.
The saiga population in Northern Zinjiang, China, was extirpated in the 1960s due to over-hunting. Saiga horns, called "Lingyangjiao" in Chinese, have long been used in Traditional Chinese Medicines (TCM). The horns of domestic sheep (Ovis aries), goat (Capra hircus), goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa), Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii), Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata), Mongolian gazelle (P. gutturosa) and Przewalski's gazelle (P. przewalskii) are also sold as substitutes for "Lingyangjiao" in TCM markets. These substitutes are all of similar morphology, especially when they are sold in slices, cubes or powders, making discrimination between these products with the naked eye rather difficult in TCM markets, especially when the merchants sell fake saiga horn on purpose.
This lack of order in the "Lingyangjiao" market impedes not only control of the trade in saiga horns but also conservation of other endangered ungulates. Therefore, an effective and convenient method to identify "Lingyangjiao" is needed.
Methods like morphological identification, micro-structure comparison, thin layer chromotography (TLC), and gel electrophoresis have been used to discriminate horns of saiga antelope from other species or artificial counterfeits. With the advantages of accuracy, simplicity, and the potential to deal with highly degraded samples, genetic markers are widely applied in wildlife identification nowadays.
Figure. Neighbour-Joining (NJ) tree of COI sequences of 644 bp from eight species involved in TCM "Lingyangjiao" markets. Samples of horns were marked with their species names. The sequences with GenBank accession numbers were retrieved from GenBank.