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Ancient yew DNA preserved in hedge project

Nov. 7, 2008 at 3:09 PM   |   Comments

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Clippings from a centuries-old yew in Scotland will help form the world's first DNA yew hedge at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, garden officials said.

The mile-long hedge will include more than 2,500 genotypes of yews taken from the DNA of ancient trees across the Great Britain, as well as from other parts of the world where it is becoming endangered, The Scotsman reported Friday.

One of the specimens is the Fortingall Yew -- estimated to be between 2,000-5,000 years old -- that grows in a churchyard of Scottish village of Fortingall.

Massive clearing efforts to harvest yews because of their medicinal properties -- the bark can be harvested for the cancer drug taxol -- plus the danger of disease are prompting horticulturalists to preserve the yew's DNA, the newspaper reported.

"This is a very exciting project drawing attention to a species which is involved in the fight against cancer," said Tom Christian, head of the Yew Conservation Hedge Project. "But what we don't know is that there may be a yew species which has mutated which could produce an even more powerful drug which may be a cure for HIV."

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