Scientists from Oregon USDA Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station have developed a method of determining where a piece of wood comes from, based on its unique chemical signature. This is a break through to fight against illegally harvested trees from protected areas. Off-course imported lumber is accompanied by documents that state its geographic origin, but unfortunately it can easily be forged.
The researchers used a technique known as DART-TOFMS (direct analysis in real time time-of-flight mass spectrometry), that allows them to detect the presence and relative abundance of various chemicals in the annual growth rings of wood samples. The samples are tiny, and could be made ready for analysis in 15 seconds. These analysis shows that trees from the same population shared the same unique chemical fingerprint. Those chemical fingerprints differs between two populations, which are located less than 100 km apart. It has to be determined if those differences are due to genetic factors, environmental factors, or a combination of the two. In comparing samples taken from 188 trees, the scientists were able to determine which of the populations each sample came from with an accuracy rate of 70 percent that could be improved as the technology is refined.