During a recruiting visit to the University of Texas at Austin, Abby Gatmaitan learned about the cancer catching pen. MasSpec was a device that could detect tumors on contact. Immediately, she knew that’s what she wanted to study. Her first realization was that the pen could classify human tissue not long after joining the lab. Most likely, it could also be used to classify animal tissue.
In this particular case, Gatmaitan had a good hunch and it paid off. Using the tip of the pen to touch a raw meat or fish sample was able to help her identify the species correctly. Her study appeared in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry this spring. Each of the five samples took less than 15 seconds to scan with the device.
Each of the five samples was approximately the size of a pen tip. This tool provides results about 720 times faster than a popular meat testing technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Additionally, it was a lot easier to use. Scientists could use it to tackle a global conservation issue: mislabeled seafood.
What is Driving Seafood Fraud?
A restaurant diner who orders expensive seafood may be a victim of seafood fraud as well. A plate of tilefish was served alongside wild-caught red snapper. Environmental destruction also results from such practices.
Poorly managed fisheries can harm local ecosystems when mislabeled fish are available. It is possible to label a fish incorrectly. A different geographical location is falsely claimed to have been where it was caught. A catch is sold for more than its market value in order to evade conservation laws.
There is a wide spread of the problem. Around 8 percent of food products are mislabeled according to a 2019 study in Biological Conservation. Fraud is more common with certain fish than others. One study by Oceana studied species known for being mislabeled. In the case of snapper and tuna, 87 and 59 percent, respectively, were mislabelled.
How Can You Tell If Fish Are Fake?
Before mislabeling fish reaches consumers, government inspectors, including those from the United States FDA, will inspect the product. It must be possible to test the authenticity of a sample’s claimed species and origin. Furthermore, such testing allows watchdog organizations to stamp ecolabels on verified fish packaging.
These ecolabels confirm that the seafood has been inspected. With pen technology, businesses can create something quickly and affordably. Natalie Hunter says scientific verification is necessary to identify what species it is. An organization that issues one of the most widely recognized eco-labels on the market today.
MasSpec Pen Device
An end of the MasSpec device has a thin tube that connects to it, looking like a swollen gray ballpoint pen. The instrument comes equipped with a mass spectrometer and a supply of solvents.
At the grocery store, Gatmaitan used the pen’s tip to touch samples of fish that she purchased. An oil-based solvent sprayed onto the sample by the pen. We then refilled the pen, then passed it through the tube into the mass spectrometer.
A solvent was dissolved in each sample inside the machine, then the samples were vaporized. The ions formed from the chemical components in the samples. Magnetic fields bent the path of the ions beaming through them.
Depending on its mass and electrical charge, each one would travel in a different direction. It would land on a detector plate based on its mass and electrical charge. It would take note of each ion’s location. A chemical analysis could done with the system.
As soon as the pen touched the fish, a hilly graph showing the compound amounts appeared on the machine’s screen. A fish’s diet and species determine its compound amounts. Various fish species have already been classified chemically.
Using these profiles, Gatmaitan’s team trained the device’s computer. On a screen, it displays various fish species along with their graph shapes. These include halibut, cod, and sockeye salmon. Similar chemical profiles could used in the future to determine whether a fish has wild-caught or farmed.
What Is Dna Analysis And Why Is It Important?
DNA analysis is already a reliable technology in the commercial market, such as the MasSpec Pen. Katie Longo, a senior scientist at MSC, explains that a new technology like this will initially lack a robust data repository required for it to be accessible and verifiable.
Nonetheless, Gatmaitan reports that several government labs interested in using the pen to test food, and UT researchers making it more field-friendly. The fish testing laboratories can connect their own mass spectrometers to the pen.
It should also be compatible with existing portable machines, according to Gatmaitan and her colleagues. The system should be able to go anywhere. Currently, Gatmaitan and her colleagues are building up the database of chemical profiles of fish species. A mixed sample can tested or where a fish caught can determined.
Sockeye salmon and Atlantic salmon very easily mistaken for each other because they look very similar. Yet, their habitats differ, according to Gatmaitan. Further research needed to narrow it down further. Research might even reveal the source of the fish.