Whether it’s tiger bones, exotic fish or rare plants, international customs officials have a major challenge in preventing illegal sale of poachers’ spoils. Tests can take days, in which time the ill-gotten contraband could be brought through a point of entry, the merchants vanished into their target marketplace of choice.

Now, a new tool unveiled at a major international conference in South Africa proposes to reduce that testing time down to just a few hours through “DNA barcoding” that will reduce trafficking, they report. The technology is being installed in South Africa currently, they add.

The tool is called the LifeScanner “LAB-IN-A-BOX” portable DNA barcoding kit, and it was unveiled today at the international Barcode of Life conference, the seventh such annual gathering, held this year at the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The tool is being implemented in the country’s ports of entry, said its creator, Sujeevan Ratnasingham, of the University of Guelph in Ontario.

“The aim of LifeScanner is to improve the situation by addressing two challenges, rapid detection, and successful prosecution,” said Ratnasingham, in a statement released by the conference today. “It does this by reducing the cost of adopting DNA analysis infrastructure and by simplifying usage of DNA analysis tools.

“It builds on the monumental work by the iBOL initiative in advancing DNA barcoding,” he added.

The tool is based on the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) system, of which Ratnasingham is the chief architect.

The African Centre for DNA Barcoding at the University of Johannesburg is already ramping up use of the new tool, said Michelle van der Bank, director of the Centre.

“The ACDB works closely with iBOL to extend the BOLD database, particularly for plants and to do advanced DNA analysis,” said van der Bank, in a statement. “We will be training port of entry officials in Africa in the use of LAB-IN-A-BOX and will be a source of trained staff to advance this work.”

The iBOL conference is not limited to the single tool, however. The DNA barcoding conference has drawn 429 abstracts, involving 1,500 authors from 73 countries, according to a rundown of the conference. Many of them involve DNA barcoding of plants, which mostly involves between two and four plastic genes.

Of special interest in many of the new abstract presentations is the presence of high-throughput sequencing, they explain.

“It is apparent that the next generations of sequencing technologies have been adopted, as (HTS) techniques are pervasive throughout the scientific program,” they write. “Applications of HTS range from recovering reference barcodes from museum specimens, to biomonitoring via-mixed sample metabarcoding and eDNA metabarcoding, and to constructing detailed species interaction networks.”

For instance, one project shows that the sampling of water holes right in Kruger National Park shows what mammals are present in the environment, as verified by “camera trapping.”

Quicker DNA results have been a pursuit as genetic science has improved and grown more accurate. For instance, the Rapid DNA Act signed into law in August aims to get human suspects’ DNA profiles uploaded into the national database called CODIS within 90 minutes. The FBI has presented how it envisions using such faster technology at gatherings such as the International Symposium on Human Identification last month.