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AHPA Launches New Botanical Authentication Wiki
ISSUE:
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20-21

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) announced in late October 2012 the launch of a new, collaborative, wiki-style website designed to provide information on botanical authentication techniques, including many industry-provided microscopy images and other identification tools.1 The AHPA Botanical Authentication Wiki, currently in beta format, features authentication resources for more than 120 botanicals, a number that is expected to grow.2 It is available at www.botanicalauthentication.org.

“The AHPA Botanical Authentication Wiki is a centralized source of information containing both examples and techniques [that] have been successfully applied to authenticate and qualify selected botanical materials,” explained Merle Zimmermann, PhD, AHPA’s information analyst (email, November 29, 2012). “These techniques are provided as a service to the trade and to further the production of high-quality botanical commodities.”

In addition to providing a collaborative and expanding database of authentication tools, the move to a wiki-format allows for easier IT maintenance and a layout that is likely familiar to users, due to the worldwide popularity of the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

“The site is run using the same MediaWiki software which powers Wikipedia…. This reduces training requirements and effort needed for staff and editors when contributed material is added to the site,” said Dr. Zimmermann. “This said, the site is not open for general editing, as Wikipedia is. There is a limited select group of editors with access to posting material on the site, including AHPA staff members and authentication experts who volunteered to participate during the initial alpha site development.”

As such, registered users are provided only with viewing access, but contributions from qualified individuals are encouraged. Contributor forms are available through the site, which allow users to submit their own information that is then reviewed by the expert advisory committee.

“The site is a technical reference tool directed towards botanical authentication experts, so the material discussed and presented in the entries are put forward for this particular type of user, who is already an expert, and who is using the site as part of a multifaceted toolkit of authentication resources,” added Dr. Zimmermann. “It is not intended or directed towards the use of the general public, and presumes a certain level of experience in the authentication arena.”

From the wiki’s homepage, registered users can access a variety of authentication resources, such as macroscopy and microscopy images, data on high-performance thin-layer chromatography (HPTLC), practicals or white papers, and AHPA’s Known Adulterants Guidance list, which the organization has been publishing since 1997.3

The Known Adulterants Guidance section includes herbs such as black cohosh (Actaea racemosa, Ranunculaceae) root and rhizome, Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgoaceae) leaf, hoodia (Hoodia gordonii, Apocynaceae) aerial parts, skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora, Lamiaceae) flower, and bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus, Ericaceae) fruit, among others. Each entry is linked to an expansive database of authentication tools, including botanical images from supporting industry organizations.

Just a few months old, the site already has been well received by many industry members. “User responses have been quite positive,” said Dr. Zimmermann. “We’ve received a good amount of correspondence from our target audience of industry experts inquiring about access, as well as management members and small business owners who would use the tool along with their own or contracted specialists to improve efficiency and get more and better analysis done with the same amount of starting resources.”

As more resources become available, AHPA’s website will become an increasingly important authentication tool for industry members. “AHPA is to be congratulated for producing this important new quality control resource,” said American Botanical Council Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal. “The Botanical Authentication Wiki will someday become a widely used resource for companies in the herbal products industry, both in the United States and internationally, and will significantly help enhance industry efforts to ensure proper identity of botanical raw materials.”

The AHPA Botanical Authentication Wiki currently is sponsored in part by Alkemists Laboratories and CAMAG Inc., both of which have provided authentication tools that are featured throughout the site. Such professional laboratory-sponsored images, techniques, and information are noted with a small logo in each section.4

As the site is still in its infancy, APHA continues to invite feedback. Specifically, the organization is welcoming ideas for the next botanicals it will feature on the site. For more information or to submit botanicals of interest, AHPA contact information can be found at www.ahpa.org/Default.aspx?tabid=62.

Dr. Zimmerman hopes the site will allow for quicker and improved access to authentication tools, a main goal of AHPA’s Botanical Authentication Program. “The turn-around time between a cutting-edge botanical becoming important to the industry and authentication methods being developed and shared can … be reduced compared to a paper-and-ink publishing schedule,” he said. “The site on its own [is] not, in this beta form, currently an exhaustive reference on all authentication topics, but it stands as a quick resource for consultation, allowing for savings and increased productivity for these experts.”

 

—Tyler Smith

References

1. AHPA introduces web-based wiki technology to assist with botanical authentication activities. [press release] Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. October 25, 2012.

2. Welcome and About AHPA’s Botanical Authentication Wiki. AHPA Botanical Authentication website. Available at: www.botanicalauthentication.org/index.php/Main_Page. Accessed December 3, 2012.

3. About the AHPA Botanical Authentication Program. American Herbal Products Association website. Available at: www.ahpa.org/Default.aspx?tabid=242. Accessed November 30, 2012.

4. Site sponsors. AHPA Botanical Authentication website. Available at: www.botanicalauthentication.org/index.php/Site_Sponsors. Accessed December 3, 2012.