Scientists develop method to identify fake processed food articles

The main highlight of the research was that researchers were able to identify the species by using what are called conserved mitochondrial genes extracted from DNA of the sample

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By Bhavya Khullar
New Delhi: Often food articles are either falsely labeled or adulterated to make quick money. But, can they be found out? What if they have undergone several steps of processing and packaging with the addition of materials like spices and condiments?
A group of Indian scientists have recently demonstrated that it is possible to identify such fake products. They conducted their study on a food packet that was being sold as containing fully processed meat of `Sika’ an exotic deer species and have come out with a clear cut result that the sample was nothing but that of pork.
The main highlight of the research was that researchers were able to identify the species by using what are called conserved mitochondrial genes extracted from DNA of the sample.
The lead investigator, Dr Mukesh Thakur, Scientist at the Centre of DNA Taxonomy under the Molecular Systematics Division of the Kolkata-based Zoological Survey of India had bought two packets of the meat from a duty free shop at Pudong International airport in Shangai, China while returning after an official visit.
After washing off the spices and condiments, he extracted DNA from the meat sample by standard laboratory method. He then did an analysis for three genes- cytochrome B, 16s ribosomal RNA, and 12sribosomal RNA, which are different for different species. He sequenced the DNA for determining the source of meat, and found that it did not match to any species of deer but had a complete match with the DNA sequence of domestic pig.
“We recorded 100% similarity between the sequences under question with that for domestic pig for all the three genes. There was no match of the suspected meat samples for any deer meat,” mentioned Dr Thakur.
The canned meat pack had a picture of Sika deer, which has been declared as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This had made Dr Thakur suspect the source of meat.
He and his team had compared the canned meat with the meat of a number of other animals also including goat, buffalo, wild and domestic pig, besides several species of deer including Sika, Hog, Barking Deer, Spotted Deer, and Sambar.
Dr Niraj Shekhar, former head at the World Wildlife Fund’s TRAFFIC (The Wildlife Trade monitoring network) India and presently Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest in charge of Protection and Vigilance, Tamil Nadu Forest Department, who is not connected with the study, told India Science Wire that marking pig meat as that of deer and selling it as a delicacy in stores has impacts on illegal animal trade.
“Many think deer do not require as much conservation efforts as tigers because deer breed quickly. But their population directly affects the numbers of carnivores, and selling venison as a delicacy would increase their poaching and illegal trade, which has implications on wildlife conservation as a whole”.
The team of researchers comprised of Mukesh Thakur, Ruheena Javed, Ved Prakash Kumar, Malay Shukla, Neha Singh, Aishwarya Maheshwari, Nipun Mohan, Dong-Dong Wu, and Ya-Ping Zhang. It was a joint effort of Kunming Institute of Zoology, and Guangzhou Women and Children’s Medical Center in China, and Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, Gujarat Forensic Sciences University and Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. (India Science Wire)