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Open Access Research article

The loci recommended as universal barcodes for plants on the basis of floristic studies may not work with congeneric species as exemplified by DNA barcoding of Dendrobium species

Hemant Kumar Singh1, Iffat Parveen1, Saurabh Raghuvanshi2 and Shashi B Babbar1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Botany, University of Delhi, Delhi, India

2 Department of Plant Molecular Biology, University of Delhi South Campus, New Delhi, India

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:42  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-42

Published: 19 January 2012



Based on the testing of several loci, predominantly against floristic backgrounds, individual or different combinations of loci have been suggested as possible universal DNA barcodes for plants. The present investigation was undertaken to check the applicability of the recommended locus/loci for congeneric species with Dendrobium species as an illustrative example.


Six loci, matK, rbcL, rpoB, rpoC1, trnH-psbA spacer from the chloroplast genome and ITS, from the nuclear genome, were compared for their amplification, sequencing and species discrimination success rates among multiple accessions of 36 Dendrobium species. The trnH-psbA spacer could not be considered for analysis as good quality sequences were not obtained with its forward primer. Among the tested loci, ITS, recommended by some as a possible barcode for plants, provided 100% species identification. Another locus, matK, also recommended as a universal barcode for plants, resolved 80.56% species. ITS remained the best even when sequences of investigated loci of additional Dendrobium species available on the NCBI GenBank (93, 33, 20, 18 and 17 of ITS, matK, rbcL, rpoB and rpoC1, respectively) were also considered for calculating the percent species resolution capabilities. The species discrimination of various combinations of the loci was also compared based on the 36 investigated species and additional 16 for which sequences of all the five loci were available on GenBank. Two-locus combination of matK+rbcL recommended by the Plant Working Group of Consortium for Barcoding of Life (CBOL) could discriminate 86.11% of 36 species. The species discriminating ability of this barcode was reduced to 80.77% when additional sequences available on NCBI were included in the analysis. Among the recommended combinations, the barcode based on three loci - matK, rpoB and rpoC1- resolved maximum number of species.


Any recommended barcode based on the loci tested so far, is not likely to provide 100% species identification across the plant kingdom and thus is not likely to act as a universal barcode. It appears that barcodes, if based on single or limited locus(i), would be taxa specific as is exemplified by the success of ITS among Dendrobium species, though it may not be suitable for other plants because of the problems that are discussed.

Dendrobium; DNA barcoding; ITS; matK