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To Fight Illegal Fishing, Forensic DNA Gets Local

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Science  10 Dec 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6010, pp. 1468-1469
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6010.1468

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In 2003, a geneticist used DNA markers called microsatellites to show that a fishing vessel had violated its quota by catching too many cod from the North Sea. It was a rare victory against the massive problem of illegal fishing. For technical reasons, however, microsatellite tests for identifying the local origins of caught fish haven't been widely adopted. A €3.9 million European research project, called FishPopTrace, aims to now lay the groundwork for a different kind of test that could be broadly useful not only for enforcing fisheries regulations but also for catching fraudulent labeling of fish in supermarkets. The consortium, which began in 2008, is exploring a range of possible techniques, such as protein patterns in fish tissue and the composition and shape of ear bones called otoliths. But the group is betting heavily on genetic variants called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). That's because SNPs should lead to tests that are faster, cheaper, and easier to scale up than those based on microsatellites. The ultimate payoff is the advent of reliable and widely used tests to determine not just which species of fish has been caught but which particular local population it came from.