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University of Guelph researchers developed LifeScanner to enable people to identify species around them
From enigmatic sausages to fake fish, the authenticity of the foods we eat is increasingly in question. It may seem like a new concept, but food fraud is a worldwide issue with a long history – and scammers have come a long way from crudely diluting milk with plaster in the Middle Ages. Fraudulent foods can be exceedingly difficult (if not impossible) for a layperson to detect. The swindlers of today are sophisticated and the financial stakes are high.
While experts push for full traceability in convoluted supply chains to combat food fraud, University of Guelph researchers have created a new tool that puts detection in the hands of non-scientists, the CBC reports. Designed for home use, LifeScanner uses DNA barcoding technology to “identify what you’re eating, what’s in your garden, or in your home.”
The species identification kit costs $50 ($30.50 for a mini version) and is available in Canada and the U.S. via the LifeScanner website . To use it, you drop the samples (“food, beneficial bugs in your backyard, fur or any animal tissue”) in supplied specimen vials filled with DNA preservation fluid, scan them and drop them in the mail.
“It shows up at our lab where the DNA is extracted and the DNA barcode is read and scanned against the global database to identify the species and the information just goes flying right back to the user’s mobile app,” founder Sujeevan Ratnasingham, associate director of informatics at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics , told the CBC .
If the sample is from a known organism, “they can see where the organism lives, other places where it’s been found, other images of the organism and descriptions.” However, in many cases, people find the unknown. Of the planet’s species, millions have yet to be scientifically described; a 2011 study estimated that roughly 86 per cent are unknown.
According to the company website, one of the goals of the tool is to educate people about biodiversity: “We live in a biologically diverse world that we do not always recognize, but it is still there, affecting our lives and impacted by our actions. LifeScanner is an app for iPhone and iPad devices designed to help people discover the diversity of living organisms around them and to help them contribute to a global knowledge base on biological diversity.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019