guest post by Ralph Imondi
Mini Food Authentication Study Conducted by California High School Students Finds No Evidence of Horsemeat DNA in Beef Products
In the wake of the recent European horsemeat scandal, high school seniors working at Ventura-based Coastal Marine Biolabs (CMB) took a brief diversion from building the BOLD reference library to examine the contents of beef products sold at local supermarket chains, health food stores, membership warehouse clubs, fast-food restaurants, and a foreign company better known for its ready-to-assemble urban furniture than for its food markets and restaurants. A team of 4 students collected a total of 32 food products that included ground beef, shaved steak, cooked and uncooked beef patties, and meatballs. Upon returning to the CMB lab, they then applied DNA Barcoding to detect the presence of horsemeat in each product. In stark contrast to the results obtained from DNA-based testing of European meat products, the students found no evidence of horsemeat in any of the samples examined with DNA barcoding. Instead, their testing detected only domestic cow (Bos taurus) DNA in 29 products labeled as 100% beef, and a combination of both domestic cow and pig (Sus scrofa) DNA in 2 products labeled as containing both beef and pork.
FoothillTechnology High School seniors Jongseung Baek, Eric Moll, Emily Park, and Amanda Torres conducted the 5-day food authentication study as an extracurricular science project. Earlier in the semester, these same students and their classmates assembled a series of BOLD-compliant reference DNA Barcode records for groundfish species collected during the third leg of a NOAA-sponsored trawl survey, which was conducted in summer 2012 around Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. Both student-led efforts were carried-out in connection with the NSF-funded Barcoding Life’s Matrix program hosted by CMB.
According to Emily Park, one of the team members involved in the projects, “participating in the DNA barcoding initiative, both in the classroom and at Coastal MarineBiolabs, allowed me to do research that has influence outside of just a local, school context. Not only did I use science for class work, I could contribute to an international database tied to biodiversity conservation and even consumer fraud. It's cool to know that the concepts you learn in DNA barcoding have direct applications in real-life, and that even high school students can take part in that direct application.”