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DNA Banking, Phylogeny and Conservation of the South African Flora

To support DNA banking activities and related conservation projects in South Africa, with a strong capacity-building component

The DNA and Tissue Banking for Biodiversity and Conservation manual was published in 2006 by Kew and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), providing practical and legal advice for setting up DNA banking facilities for plant and animal material.

One of the aims of this project was to establish a DNA bank in South Africa, using the technical and policy expertise developed by RBG Kew. It has created an invaluable archive of plant genetic diversity, holding over 3,000 DNA samples from many South African genera, and serves as a resource for the identification of areas of high priority for conservation and to facilitate the discovery of novel genes. Working with South African conservation authorities and universities, at least 10 people have been trained annually from undergraduate to postdoctorate level in biotechnologies and management of genetic resources. Dissemination of knowledge was achieved through all appropriate media, from high profile publications (e.g. a letter in Science entitled 'A plea for DNA banking') and books (e.g. a manual on DNA banking for biodiversity and conservation published by Kew in collaboration with IUCN) to electronic means such as the World Wide Web.

This project benefited from an initial grant from the Darwin Initiative, with further funding for 2006-2008 secured, again from the Darwin Initiative. Core funding and grants from South Africa are also being used to continue running the project.

Key publications 2006-2011

  • Forest, F., Grenyer, R., Rouget, M., Davies, T.J., Cowling, R.M., Balmford, A., Faith, D.P., Manning, J.C., Proche≈ü, ≈û., van der Bank, M., Reeves, G., Hedderson, T.A.J. & Savolainen, V. (2007). Preserving the evolutionary potential of floras in biodiversity hotspots. Nature 445: 757-760.
  • Davies, T.J., Smith, G.F., Bellstedt, D.U., Boatwright, J.S., Bytebier, B., Cowling, R.M., Forest, F., Harmon, L.J., Muasya, A.M., Schrire, B., Steenkamp, Y., Bank, M.V.D. & Savolainen, V. (2011). Extinction risk and diversification are linked in a plant biodiversity hotspot. PLoS Biology 9: e1000620.
  • Lahaye, R., van der Bank, M., Bogarin, D., Warner, J., Pupulin, F., Gigot, G., Maurin, O., Duthoit, S., Barraclough, T. G. & Savolainen, V. (2008). DNA barcoding the floras of Biodiversity hotspots. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105: 2923-2928.

Project partners and collaborators

Australian Museum

Republic of South Africa
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
South African National Biodiversity Institute
University of Johannesburg
University of Cape Town
University of Stellenbosch


Imperial College London

Missouri Botanical Garden
University of Virginia

Project funders

The Darwin Initiative

Project team


China Williams

Jodrell Laboratory

Laszlo Csiba, Edith Kapinos, Vincent Savolainen

Science Teams: 
Project Leader: