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DNA Barcoding of Caviar Indicates that Regulation Can Curb Illegal Trade

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Beluga Sturgeon_IOCS

Research that used DNA-based testing to compare the extent of fraudulent labeling of black caviar purchased before and after international protection shows conservation benefits. A team of scientists from the Institute for Conservation Science at Stony Brook University and the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the Museum repeated a market survey of commercially available caviar in the New York City area that was conducted before the protection was put in place, and the results showed nearly a 50 percent decrease in fraudulently labeled caviar.

The research, published this week in the journal PLoS ONE, compared the results of two market surveys conducted 10 years apart. The previous market survey was conducted from 1995 to 1996, before sturgeon was listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1998. That survey revealed that 19 percent of commercially available caviar in the New York City area was mislabeled with respect to species origin. When sampling the same market from 2006 to 2008, fraudulently labeled caviar occurred in 10 percent of the caviar, and only in the samples bought online.

Sturgeons and paddlefishes, the producers of black caviar, are protected by CITES due to widespread population abundance declines from overfishing, habitat degradation, and illegal trade in caviar. Intentional mislabeling of caviar products can thwart trade regulations and diminish their impact on the conservation of the sturgeon.

In addition to demonstrating the conservation benefits of trade regulation for threatened and endangered species, the research results also underscore the utility of a technique called “DNA barcoding.” This technology is based on a relatively short region of a gene in the mitochondrion, an energy-producing structure in the cell, that allows researchers to identify the species from which the eggs came from.

“The results of this study demonstrate the effectiveness of DNA-based methods to identify the species of origin for detection of illegal products in the marketplace,” said George Amato, co-author and director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the Museum. “Moreover, these results demonstrate if this type of genetic testing is used by inspection officials in real time, it can help detect and discourage illegal harvesting of threatened and endangered marine species in the geographic regions in which it is occurring.”

For more information about this study, click here to read the Museum’s press release.

Learn more about George Amato’s research by watching the video below and see additional curator profiles on the “Meet the Scientists” channel on AMNH.tv.


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