Sequencing Traditional Chinese Medicines Reveals Surprises

Ingredients include potentially toxic plants and traces of endangered animals

FRIDAY, April 13 (HealthDay News) -- DNA sequencing of traditional Chinese medicines (TCMs) using high-throughput sequencing (HTS) reveals that potentially toxic plant ingredients and traces of endangered animals are present, according to a study published online April 12 in PLoS Genetics.

Megan L. Coghlan, of Murdoch University in Australia, and colleagues used DNA sequencing, targeting both the p-loop region of the plastid trnL gene and the mitochondrial 16S ribosomal RNA gene, to generate reads from 15 TCM samples extracted from powders, tablets, capsules, bile flakes, and herbal teas.

The researchers found the presence of 68 different plant families, including potentially toxic Ephedra and Asarum, as well as four animal families, including genera that are vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, like the Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus) and Saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica). Bovidae, Cervidae, and Bufonidae DNA were also identified in many samples and were rarely declared on the product packaging.

"This study demonstrates that deep sequencing via HTS is an efficient and cost-effective way to audit highly processed TCM products and will assist in monitoring their legality and safety, especially when plant reference databases become better established," the authors write.

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