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Pakistan-US Science and Technology Cooperation Program                                                            
Phase 4 (2009 Deadline)

Standardization and Quality Assurance of Medicinal Plants

Allan Showalter, Ohio University
Zabta Khan Shinwari, Quaid-i-Azam University
Pakistani Funding (HEC):  $104,502
US Funding (Department of State): $281,000
Project Dates: November 15, 2010 - November 14, 2013 (Extended through October 31, 2014)

Project Overview
Pakistan has more than 6,000 species of higher plants, of which at least 12 percent are used medicinally. The country is among the top ten in exporting raw herbs, with more than 400 local herbal product companies involved in the industry. Due to over-collection, however, several plant species have become extinct in the Hindukush-Himalayan regions. The major reason for this loss of plant biodiversity is that most people involved in gathering plant materials (mainly women and children) harvest natural resources thoughtlessly to subsidize their meager incomes as best they can. Due to inadequate collection methods, more than half of all plant material gathered is lost before even reaching the processing stage. Moreover, due to lack of training, the harvesters frequently collect plants that may look similar but are actually different species. Serious mistakes have been reported when the wrong plant material has been used. This project will help herbal product processors identify medicinal plant species through the use of molecular markers (i.e., DNA barcoding and DNA fingerprinting) that can be used to uniquely “fingerprint” and “barcode” plant species. Databases of such genetic barcode and fingerprint data will allow for simple and conclusive identification of medicinal plant species. Application of the methods to be used in this project will also determine the heavy metal content and nutritional value of these medicinal plants to ascertain whether the material meets international standards. In the process of testing and identifying the most appropriate barcode genes and fingerprinting sequences for plants for this purpose, the US partners will help their Pakistani counterparts to learn and apply these new techniques, thus strengthening human resources and research infrastructure at Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU). Improving the quality of herbal products will also help to increase their value and should ultimately increase the earnings of the poor communities involved in collection and cultivation as those involved are trained in proper techniques for collection, cultivation, and processing. In time, enhanced exports of standardized, semiprocessed, and later fully processed herbal drugs could become an increasing source for earnings for Pakistan in the international marketplace.

Quarterly Update 

During the last quarter, the US research staff received voucher specimens from Pakistan.  Kirk Emch and Dr. Melanie Schori carried out DNA extractions and a PCR analysis of these samples. They have also downloaded almost all of the GenBank sequence data available for comparisons in alignments for each of the genera under investigation. These sister sequences will allow analyses of intra- and interspecific variation, and provide information on which gene region(s) is most informative for each genus.

The project staff on the US side has sequenced market material of Fagonia and voucher material of fig family specimens for a student research project, with the results sent back to Pakistan. The Fagonia data indicate that any of the three gene regions (rbcL, matK, psbA-trnH) can be used to distinguish species that occur in Pakistan. They also confirm that multiple species are sold in the marketplace under the same common name.  Sequence data has also been sent to Dr. Helen Griffiths and Dr. Kirsten Wolff, two researchers in the UK who have investigated anti-cancer properties of Fagonia from Pakistan, to assist them in determining which species they are studying.

On the Pakistani side, two PhD students, Nadia Batool Rizvi and Ikram Ullah, have collected different species samples and are conducting tests, including DNA extraction. Ms. Rizvi made a trip to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where she collected Lamiaceae and Rosaceae samples. She is working on DNA extraction of these species.  Mr. Ullah brought in more samples of Fagonia from Peshawar and has conducted protein kinase inhibition, antifungal, and cytotoxicity assays. He is preparing an article on the results. Furthermore, five M. Phil students continue to assist in the project by gathering samples in the field and performing tests. Some of these tests include analyzing anti-cancerous properties.

In addition to field and lab work, the research team has submitted a review article on the ethnomedicinal importance of the Apiaceae family to the Pakistan Journal of Botany.  Moreover, a joint US-Pakistan manuscript has been started to highlight the need for vouchers and DNA barcoding for Fagonia research.  Dr. Schori presented the results of the barcoding project at the Botanical Society of America conference in Boise, ID.

Progress Reports 

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