Faster seafood DNA testing on the way

A new, faster seafood DNA testing technology could be developed by late next year, thanks to research starting soon in the United States.

J. Aquiles Sanchez, a senior research scientist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, U.S.A., will test and develop a “fast, cost-effective identification of edible fish and fish products to prevent species substitution and fraud,” according to the Seafood Industry Research Fund (SIRF), which is funding the project.

The research seeks to develop a rapid means of seafood species identification using Closed-Tube DNA Bar Coding. Compared to difficult and expensive DNA testing that the Food and Drug Administration uses currently, the closed-DNA system “represents a convenient alternative that can be used with both laboratory equipment and, importantly, handheld devices,” SIRF said in a statement.

“It is being developed for commercial use throughout the seafood supply chain. We know it will be less than the cost of laboratory DNA testing and results are much quicker than sending to a lab and waiting for those results. Speed is critical to the potential to use this technology to prevent mislabeling of fish species,” Russ Mentzer, chairman of SIRF, told SeafoodSource.

However, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.-based InstantLabs already offers rapid DNA tests for several seafood species, including Atlantic, sockeye and coho salmon, Atlantic blue crab and catfish.

The InstantLabs DNA test, conducted using Hunter-brand hand-held equipment, produces results in less than two hours so retailers, restaurants, distributors, government agencies and others can verify the species, according to the company. Typical seafood DNA testing requires samples to be sent out to a lab, which then produces results within a week or more.

Meanwhile, the SIRF research will begin in January 2017, and should be completed by October 2017.

“The independent laboratory companies will work with the researchers to develop the hand-held device. Delivery is not known at this time,” Mentzer said.

In addition to benefitting seafood suppliers, distributors and others, the FDA “has a strong interest in any new technologies and techniques that could potentially decrease cost and time of analysis, while increasing throughput and ease of use,” said Jonathan Deeds, a scientist with the FDA Office of Regulatory Science.

“Methods with the potential to be field-deployable are of particular interest. For public health, it is vital that both domestic and imported seafood be safe, wholesome and properly labeled,” Deeds said.

Mentzer said FDA’s interest in this technology will be beneficial to the seafood community.

“This rigorous protocol will help establish a tested standard useable throughout the seafood supply chain,” Mentzer said.

The research will compile a reference database of DNA "barcodes" for species at high risk of mislabeling or substitution.

“Industries thrive or perish on their reputations. The seafood business needs more effective resources in defending itself against the bad actors who threaten the opinions and goodwill of its consumers,” said Jamie Marshall, chairman of industry watchdog group The Better Seafood Board.


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