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ICAR-CIARI Researchers Resolves the Mystery of Andaman’s Local Choi Jhaal: DNA Barcoding revealed as New Species for Indian Flora

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20 May 2024, Port Blair: Woody pepper is a perennial liana of the Piperaceae family, which is locally called Choi jhaal in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The species is unique as its stem segments are the edible part, unlike berries or leaves in other commercial Piper species such as black pepper and betel leaf. Stem pieces are used by some settler populations of these islands for flavoring vegetarian and non-vegetarian curries. Systematic research work has been taken up at ICAR-Central Island Agricultural Research Institute, Port Blair since 2016 to conserve it and understand the significance of this underutilized genetic resource. Studies at the institute suggested the spice to be a source of antioxidants including phenolics and piperine. Considering its potential in island agriculture, it is being promoted as a novel spice crop from these islands. The botanical identity of the species has remained debatable due to the complex nature of the genus.

Under the Department of Biotechnology, Govt of India funded a project at ICAR-CIARI, a DNA barcoding approach with two plastid barcode markers (ribulose-1, 5-bisphosphate carboxylase/oxygenase large sub-unit-rbcL gene and psbA-trnH spacer region) was adopted to overcome this issue. This approach revealed that the correct botanical identity of the woody pepper is Piper pendulispicum C.DC. This species has not been reported from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands or any parts of mainland India so far. As per the Plants of the World website, which is the repository of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, London, this species is believed to be native to Vietnam and it has been also found in parts of Thailand. These findings would aid in the conservation of this unique genetic resource found in the remotely located Indian islands apart from promoting its cultivation. The study was carried out by Dr. Ajit Arun Waman, Dr. Arun Kumar De, Dr. Pooja Bohra, Dr. Sneha Sawhney from ICAR-CIARI and Dr. Sanjay Mishra from Botanical Survey of India, Central Regional Centre, Allahabad under the overall guidance of Dr. Eaknath B. Chakurkar, Director, ICAR-CIARI.

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