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DNA Extraction from Herbarium Specimens

Databasing protocols used for extraction of DNA from herbarium specimens

Studying plant DNA using modern molecular techniques such as DNA sequencing plays an important role in understanding evolutionary relationships, conservation status, identification through DNA barcoding and many other aspects of plant biology. With the enormous herbarium resources available, often including specimens from difficult to access areas or from taxa that are now extinct, the ability to utilize these specimens greatly enhances the research botanists are able to do and many studies have already used DNA extracted from herbarium specimens. However the process of extracting DNA from herbarium specimens is often fraught with difficulty related to such variables as; plant chemistry, drying method of the specimen and chemical treatment of the specimen. Because of this extraction of any given taxon may require time consuming optimization of the extraction protocols.

As part of a larger project aiming to improve the accessibility of DNA from herbarium specimens and understand the damage that occurs to DNA in the specimens, this project is collating data, both published and unpublished, on the techniques researchers have used and whether or not they were successful for the taxa in question. The data collated will be made available as an open access database hosted by RBG Kew so that researchers in the future will be able to benefit from this experience, both by using the successful techniques rather than always having to’reinvent the wheel’ and by avoiding the protocols that were not successful.

Researchers will be encouraged to continue submitting data after the database has gone live in 2012 so that this can become an ever-growing resource for those wanting to use DNA from herbarium samples in their research.

Project partners and collaborators


Natural History Museum, London

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh


University of Waageningen


University of Copenhagen

Project funders



Project team

Jodrell Laboratory

Alex Woodcraft, Robyn Cowan

Science Teams: 
Project Leader: