DNA barcoding

Imagine you could identify any plant species from the tiniest fragment of leaf, seed or pollen grain; this is possible using DNA barcoding.

DNA barcoding uses short sections of DNA to identify species. Throughout the world, scientists are working together to DNA barcode all living things.

Wales was the first nation in the world to DNA barcode all of its native flowering plants and conifers, through work led by the National Botanic Garden of Wales. This work provides a resource with huge potential for research into biodiversity conservation and human health, freely available to all researchers via the Barcode of Life Database.

Our Barcode UK collection now covers 1,473 native flowering plant and conifer species of the UK, with 6,100 individual plants sampled. Each plant species is DNA barcoded three times using three different individuals. The identification of each plant species is also verified by an expert. We use plant DNA barcode regions rbcL, matK, and ITS2.  These DNA barcodes are recognised internationally and are used to create a standardised approach for all researchers.

Unknown DNA sequences can be compared to the database in order to find out what plant they have come from. The real importance of this technique is that it can identify species where it was difficult or not possible before: from seed, roots, pollen grains, faecal samples, stomach contents, or environmental samples from the air, soil and water.

We are using DNA barcoding to support our ongoing research: looking at where insects are foraging, finding out the floral source of honeys, and uncovering the biodiversity of soil. Our DNA barcodes are also being used to understand pollen movement for hay fever sufferers and to investigate plant community structure.


Brown, M. R., Hollingsworth, P. M., Forrest, L. L., Hart, M. L., Leitch, I. J., Jones, L., Ford, C., de Vere, N., & Twyford, A. D. (2023). Genetic factors predict hybrid formation in the British floraProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences120(16)

Henniges MC, Powell RF, Mian S, Stace CA, Walker KJ, Gornall RJ, Christenhusz MJM, Brown MR, Twyford AD, Hollingsworth PM, Jones L, de Vere N, Antonelli A, Leitch AR, Leitch IJ. (2022). A taxonomic, genetic and ecological data resource for the vascular plants of Britain and Ireland. Scientific Data 9:1.

Jones, L., Twyford, A.D., Ford, C.R., Rich, T.C.G., Davies, H., Forrest, L.L., Hart, M.L., McHaffie, H., Brown, M.R., Hollingsworth, P.M., de Vere, N., (2021). Barcode UK: A complete DNA barcoding resource for the flowering plants and conifers of the United KingdomMolecular Ecology Resources 1–13.

Moorhouse-Gann, R. J., Dunn, J. C., de Vere, N., Goder, M., Cole, N., Hipperson, H. & Symondson, W. O. C. (2018) New universal ITS2 primers for high-resolution herbivory analyses using DNA metabarcoding in both tropical and temperate zonesScientific Reports, 8, 8542.

Deiner, K., Bik, H. M., Mächler, E., Seymour, M., Lacoursière-Roussel, A., Altermatt, F., Creer, S., Bista, I., Lodge, D. M., de Vere, N., Pfrender, M. E. & Bernatchez, L. (2017) Environmental DNA metabarcoding: Transforming how we survey animal and plant communitiesMolecular Ecology. 26, 21, p. 5872-5895.

Lim L, Crawley MJ, de Vere N, Rich T and Savolainen V (2014) A phylogenetic analysis of the British flora sheds light on the evolutionary and ecological factors driving plant invasionsEcology and Evolution 4(22): 4258–4269.

de Vere, N., Rich, T.C.G., Ford, C.R., Trinder, S.A., Long, C., Moore, C.W., Satterthwaite, D., Davies, H., Allainguillaume, J., Ronca, S., Tatarinova, T., Garbett, H., Walker, K., Wilkinson, M.J., 2012. DNA Barcoding the Native Flowering Plants and Conifers of WalesPLoS ONE 7, e37945.