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InstantLabs, University of Guelph Collaborate on DNA Technology to Combat Fish Species Fraud

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – InstantLabs today announced an agreement with the University of Guelph to co-develop DNA-based tests to combat seafood species fraud, which is estimated to cost consumers and the food industry billions of dollars.

The tests, the Baltimore firm said, would be used to rapidly identify seafood species and to ensure they are correctly labeled. InstantLabs and the university will develop kits using the company's Hunter Real-Time PCR system, which is currently being used to screen for food-borne pathogens, such as Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.

The kits, which InstantLabs plans to launch within the next four months, would allow importers, distributors, and customs agents to confirm the identification of seafood species in less than two hours, the company said.

Citing a report from the conservation group Oceana, InstantLabs said that between 25 and 70 percent of requests for certain fish species that are considered desirable could be fraudulent. Such species include red snapper, wild salmon, and Atlantic cod.

The fraud occurs when a cheaper fish species is substituted for a more expensive one, though the consumer pays for the more expensive fish.

As part of the collaboration, Robert Hanner, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, and primary investigator Amanda Naaum will develop the DNA testing technology.

Hanner also leads a global project to assemble a reference library for the molecular identification of all fishes, and under his guidance the university has created the world's largest database of DNA sequences for seafood using DNA bar codes.

InstantLabs said that under the collaboration, Naaum will be the first individual to translate the database into a commercial product for identifying seafood.

"Even the most savvy seafood consumers cannot always positively identify what they are buying or eating through our normal sensory signals using sight, feel, and taste, or when fraud is being committed," InstantLabs CEO Steve Guterman said in a statement. "DNA-based testing, however, allows for precise, no-doubt identification."