Food Fraud: High Schoolers Use DNA Tests to Expose Fake Caviar

By Brett Israel | December 30, 2009 11:59 am

dna-investigators-webA pair of genetic sleuths from New York City’s Trinity high school discovered a bit of food foul play.  Seniors Matt Cost and Brenda Tan collected DNA samples from items around their homes and school, sequenced the fragments and analyzed them with a publicly available database, and found there is little truth in advertising, according to Cosmic Log:

The real detective work came into play when [they] matched the DNA code against a couple of publicly available databases for animal species. They found out that an expensive brand of sheep’s-milk cheese was actually made from cow’s milk, that “sturgeon caviar” was actually Mississippi paddlefish, and that dog treats supposedly made from venison were actually made from beef.

The duo also analyzed DNA from a cockroach that looks like a typical American cockroach. However, Cost and Tan found that its genetic information was different from normal and they think their mystery bug may actually be a previously unidentified species.

For most people in New York City, this will not be a surprise.

Related Content:
80beats: DNA Scanner Proves That NYC Sushi Contains Endangered Bluefin Tuna
80beats: DNA Forensics Traces Sharks Killed for Their Fins
Discoblog: Small Comfort: Cockroaches, Too, Get Fat on an Unbalanced Diet

Image: Mark Stoeckle / Rockefeller Univ.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Food, Nutrition, & More Food
  • dee

    I’m trying to locate a testing service that can confirm/refute the contents of some pet products imported from China…
    Product is purported freeze dried beef.

    Where is there a service that can (for a fee, naturally) test the product I supply?

    All I’ve been able to find are companies that service food producers.

    Thanks for any help!

  • Elissa J

    I started to wonder how the school could afford the technology, then did a quick webcheck: if we charged our high school students $34,535 per year, our district could get DNA scanners for them too!

  • Cathy A

    Some high schools, especially in college towns, also have a partnership with local universities. In Augusta GA, AR Johnson, a magnet high school (free, but requires a test to attend), has a partnership with the Medical College of Georgia a few blocks down the street to allow students access to medical laboratories. Most kids in Augusta that are serious about becoming doctors strive very hard to get into that school (or the rival magnet school, Davidson, which is a fine arts school but has a rigorous science program as well.)

    So while most high schools can’t afford that sort of thing outright, some schools are able to get around that limitation by borrowing equipment from colleges.

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