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Single Larval Species Found in Mezcal 'Worm' DNA Analysis

For a paper in PeerJ Life & Environment, a team from the University of Florida's Florida Museum of Natural History and other centers in the US, Canada, and Switzerland turn to targeted DNA sequencing to track down the moth species behind the worm-like larvae that are found at the bottom of mezcal bottles produced in Mexico. Starting with 21 larvae from several commercially available brands of the distilled agave alcoholic drinks, the researchers successfully isolated, amplified, and sequenced DNA from all but three of the samples. Rather than finding all three species suspected of serving as the mezcal "worm," their targeted cytochrome C oxidase subunit 1 (COI) gene sequencing pointed to a single source species in the samples tested: the agave redworm moth, Comadia redtenbacheri. "Our result was somewhat unexpected because there are historically about 63 species of larvae or 'worms' that are consumed in Mexico," the author write. Even so, the current result "affirms the importance of C. redtenbacheri for the mezcal industry," they explain, calling the species "one of the most popular edible insects in Mexico."