Discrimination of highly degraded, aged Asian and African elephant ivory using denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE)

Nitchakamon Suwanchatree, Phuvadol Thanakiatkrai, Adrian Linacre, Thitika Kitpipit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Elephant populations have greatly reduced mainly due to illegal poaching for their ivory. The trade in elephant products is protected by national laws and CITES agreements to prevent them from further decline. For instance, in Thailand, it is illegal to trade ivory from African elephants; however, the law allows possession of ivory from Asian elephants if permission has been obtained from the authorities. As such, means of enforcement of legislation are needed to classify the legal status of seized ivory products. Many DNA-based techniques have been previously reported for this purpose, although all have a limit of detection not suitable for extremely degraded samples. Aim: We report an assay based on nested PCR followed by DGGE to confirm the legal or illegal status of seized ivory samples where it is assumed that the DNA will be highly degraded. Method and results: The assay was tested on aged ivory from which the assay was tested for reproducibility, specificity, and, importantly, sensitivity. Blind testing showed 100% identification accuracy. Correct assignment in all 304 samples tested was achieved including confirmation of the legal status of 227 highly degraded, aged ivories, thus underlining the high sensitivity of the assay. Conclusion and recommendation: The research output will be beneficial to analyze ivory casework samples in wildlife forensic laboratories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-115
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Legal Medicine
Issue number1
Early online date25 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


  • DGGE
  • Ivory
  • Legal status identification


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