Species identification in complex groups of medicinal plants based on DNA barcoding: a case study on Astragalus spp. (Fabaceae) from southwest China

  • Dequan ZhangEmail author
  • Bei Jiang
Methods and Resources Article


Species from the genus Astragalus L. (Fabaceae) are distributed throughout the world, with southwest China being one of the distribution centers of this genus. Many Astragalus species are used by local Chinese people as traditional medicines for enhancing immunity. However, the complexity of morphological characters in many Astragalus species makes it difficult to correctly identify them. DNA barcoding is a useful tool for species identification based on standardized DNA markers. In this study, internal transcribed spacer (ITS) region and three chloroplast regions (matK, rbcL, and trnH–psbA) were used for the identification of Astragalus species from SW China. The ITS region showed a high success rate of PCR amplification and bidirectional sequencing, as well as a high discriminatory ability (72%). The matK region also possessed relatively perfect university and had a high discriminatory ability (61%); while the rbcL region, the most popular cpDNA marker, showed good university but low discriminatory ability (44%). We found that the trnH–psbA region was not suitable for identifying Astragalus species because of its low success rate of DNA sequencing. In the studied species, combination of multiple DNA barcodes could improve the discriminatory ability. The ITS region was able to identify frequently used Astragalus species in SW China, such as A. yunnanensis, A. acaulis, A. bhotanensis, and A. camptodontoides, and we concluded that this region could be listed as the core barcode for species identification of medicinal Astragalus species from SW China.


Astragalus DNA barcoding Species identification Medicinal plant ITS Southwest China 



This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 31170313, 81960637 & 31660081) and Yunnan provincial science and Technology Department (Grant No. 2016FB144). The authors thank Chunlei Xiang, Junbo Yang, Jing Yang, and Zhirong Zhang from the Kunming Institution of Botany (CAS) for their help in specimen identification and molecular experiments as well as Liyun Yang from the Institute of Alpine Economic Plant, Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, for her help in collecting specimens and materials for the molecular analyses.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Pharmacy and ChemistryDali UniversityDaliPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Institute of Materia MedicaDali UniversityDaliPeople’s Republic of China

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