The Barcode Blog

A mostly scientific blog about short DNA sequences for species identification and discovery. I encourage your commentary. -- Mark Stoeckle

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Routine DNA testing in fish industry to help people and fish

Over 1000 fish species can be legally sold in the United States, a challenge for accurate labelling. Many fish products such as fillets cannot be identified to species, even by experts. DNA surveys suggest that at least for some expensive species, most fish products are mislabelled. In 2004 Nature 430:309, scientists at University of North Carolina analyzed mtDNA of fish labelled as red snapper, which by US law can only be applied to a Caribbean snapper species, Lutjanus campechanus. 77% (17/22) fish purchased from 9 vendors in eight states were not L. campechanus, and most were species from other regions of the world, or could not be identified to species due to lack of reference sequences.

More recently, the availability of commercial DNA testing has enabled enterprising news stations to do their own research. Last year a Florida television station found that 6 of 11 restaurant entrees labeled as local grouper were other species, including Asian catfish and tilapia, and last month a Los Angeles television station reported that red snapper entrees at 4 local restaurants were either tilapia, catfish, or mahi mahi.  Following up on the news media, the Florida Attorney General’s office did their own testing, found 17 of 24 restaurants sold entrees mislabeled as grouper, and made legal settlements. What is needed is needed is a widely available method backed up by a reliable reference library that can be routinely applied to identification of fish and fish products in the marketplace. DNA barcoding is designed to be just that. 

The Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) Regulatory Fish Encyclopedia (RFE) aims “to assist with the accurate identification of species and help federal, state, and local officials and purchasers of seafood identify species substitution and economic deception in the marketplace.”

The species pages include scientific and common names, pictures of whole fish and fish products, analytic gels of fish proteins, and excitingly, an empty space for reference DNA sequence information. For reliable identification, the fish reference library needs comprehensive taxonomic coverage and adequate sampling of variation within species, ie DNA barcoding. I believe the Fish Barcode of Life Initiative (Fish-BoL), which has already collected barcodes from over 16,000 specimens representing more than 3500 species, will provide a widely used tool that will benefit consumers and the many species of fish that require management or protection.  

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 24th, 2007 at 10:59 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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About this site

This web site is an outgrowth of the Taxonomy, DNA, and Barcode of Life meeting held at Banbury Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, September 9-12, 2003. It is designed and managed by Mark Stoeckle, Perrin Meyer, and Jason Yung at the Program for the Human Environment (PHE) at The Rockefeller University.

About the Program for the Human Environment

The involvement of the Program for the Human Environment in DNA barcoding dates to Jesse Ausubel's attendance in February 2002 at a conference in Nova Scotia organized by the Canadian Center for Marine Biodiversity. At the conference, Paul Hebert presented for the first time his concept of large-scale DNA barcoding for species identification. Impressed by the potential for this technology to address difficult challenges in the Census of Marine Life, Jesse agreed with Paul on encouraging a conference to explore the contribution taxonomy and DNA could make to the Census as well as other large-scale terrestrial efforts. In his capacity as a Program Director of the Sloan Foundation, Jesse turned to the Banbury Conference Center of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, whose leader Jan Witkowski prepared a strong proposal to explore both the scientific reliability of barcoding and the processes that might bring it to broad application. Concurrently, PHE researcher Mark Stoeckle began to work with the Hebert lab on analytic studies of barcoding in birds. Our involvement in barcoding now takes 3 forms: assisting the organizational development of the Consortium for the Barcode of Life and the Barcode of Life Initiative; contributing to the scientific development of the field, especially by studies in birds, and contributing to public understanding of the science and technology of barcoding and its applications through improved visualization techniques and preparation of brochures and other broadly accessible means, including this website. While the Sloan Foundation continues to support CBOL through a grant to the Smithsonian Institution, it does not provide financial support for barcoding research itself or support to the PHE for its research in this field.