Genetic authentication of ginseng and other traditional Chinese medicine

Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2003 Sep;24(9):841-6.


The main objective of this paper is to review the chemical and genetic methods used in authentication of ginseng, especially the recent advances in microsatellite genotyping and its application to the authentication of other traditional Chinese medicines (TCM). The standardization and modernization of TCM hinge on the authentication of their botanical identities. Analysis of well-characterized marker compounds is now the most popular method for identifying the herbal materials and quality control of TCM, eg, ginsenoside profiling for authentication of Panax species. However, in many herbal species the chemical composition of the plant changes with the external environment and processing conditions, which lowers the reliability of these authentication methods. In the light of the advances in molecular biotechnology in the past few decades, genetic tools are now considered to provide more standardized and reliable methods for authentication of herbal materials at the DNA level. These genetic tools include random amplified polymorphic DNA (RAPD), DNA fingerprinting using multi-loci probes, restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP), and microsatellite marker technology. The practicality of these methods varies in terms of their sensitivity, reliability, reproducibility, and running cost. Using ginseng as an example, we reviewed the advantages and limitations of these molecular techniques in TCM authentication. We have developed a set of microsatellite markers from American ginseng that are able to differentiate Panax ginseng and Panax quinquetolius with the resolution down to farm level, ie, confirmation of its botanical identity and origin. Compared with other molecular techniques, microsatellite marker technology is more robust, accurate, reproducible, reliable, and sensitive. This is essential for large-scale TCM authentication centers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA Fingerprinting
  • Microsatellite Repeats*
  • Panax / chemistry
  • Panax / classification
  • Panax / genetics*
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry
  • Plants, Medicinal / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Quality Control