What sorts of DNA can be found in an urban environment? Last year I helped supervise Trinity High School students Brenda Tan and Matt Cost in an investigation of New York City apartments, sidewalks, and supermarkets with DNA barcoding. Brenda and Matt spent 4 months collecting and documenting everyday items that might contain DNA, and delivered specimens to Center for Conservation Genetics, American Museum of Natural History for testing; 151 (70%) of 217 items yielded DNA barcodes, including a feather duster (ostrich), a hot dog from a street vendor (cow), a dog biscuit (American bison), and a fly in a shipment of grapefruit from Texas (Oriental latrine fly Chrysomya megacephala, an invasive species in southern U.S.). Among other surprising results, the student investigators found 95 different animal species, 16% of human and pet food items mislabeled, and a genetically distinct mystery cockroach that might be a new subspecies or species. I encourage you to peruse the Rockefeller University DNAHouse site which includes their narrative and Q+A reports, spreadsheets detailing specimens and results, and high-resolution images, including of cockroach!
Following example of 2008 student-led “Sushigate.” Brenda and Matt’s DNAHouse study is capturing wide public interest, including stories in New York Times, New York Post, NPR, NBC TV, and over 230 media sites in 9 languages and 30 countries so far. If high school students can make original discoveries with important regulatory and scientific implications using DNA barcoding, then wide application to food products, products from protected and regulated species, detection of invasive species, and biodiversity surveys, including by interested public, is not far off. The most important for general public is food, and I expect to see growing attention on the part of regulatory agencies, distributers, retailers, and consumers to identifying mislabeled food products using DNA barcodes.
This entry was posted on Monday, January 4th, 2010 at 4:22 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.