Illegal wildlife trade is a scourge that affects biodiversity, destroys the fragile equilibrium of natural ecosystems, leads to accelerated extinction of species, and adversely impacts humankind. Elephant’s ivory, rhinoceros’ horn, tiger’s fur are all well-known examples, but the most trafficked wildlife product in the world is Rosewood.
To the naked eye, Rosewood logs are indistinguishable from other non-protected wood species. However, it can be distinguished at the genetic level with high precision. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, no Rosewood identification tool based on genetic signatures exists.
Here, we are developing cheap, portable and easy-to-use biosensors, based on toehold switches, that will accelerate the identification process and thus empower local authorities to identify and stop the logging of this species.
Our biosensor uses engineered molecular machinery of the common gut bacterium (*E. coli*) to sense nucleic acid signatures specific to the Rosewood tree.
We will demonstrate how to go from the design to the final application of the biosensors, identifying the trafficked Rosewood to the family, phylum, or the species level.
Deployment of portable and cost-effective rosewood biosensors will enable on-site surveillance and help to protect this rare and valuable species.