DNA Used to Distinguish Wildfowl Meat

SPAIN - A team of researchers from the Veterinary Faculty of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) have developed a quick and easy technique to distinguish the meat of quail, pheasant, pigeon and other wildfowl using DNA analysis. Monitoring the authenticity of these types of meat avoids their being marketed under fraudulent names that do not correspond to the real identity of the product.
calendar icon 9 April 2009
clock icon 4 minute read

A group of researchers from the Veterinary Faculty of the UCM have developed a genetic technique to identify the meat of quail (Coturnix coturnix), pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), guinea fowl (Numida meleagris), capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) and ringdove (Columba palumbus), as well as that of the two species of partridge most frequently eaten in Spain: red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa) and the chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar).

"It is now possible to differentiate the meat of these species from the other birds usually consumed, such as chicken (Gallus gallus), turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Barbary duck (Carina moschata) or goose (Anser anser)", María Rojas, one of the authors of the study, tells SINC.

The researcher explains that to apply this technique, the details of which appear in an article published in the magazine Poultry Science, it is necessary to extract the DNA from the meat and amplify a fragment of the "Mitochondrial D-Loop", from some 310 base pairs, by means of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

The amplified DNA fragments are then treated with three "restriction enzymes" to cut them and identify the specific sequence parts of each species, by means of a "restriction fragment length polymorphism" (RFLP) analysis.

The enzymes used to differentiate the birds are known as HinfI, MboII and Hpy188III. The results of the combined application of these three enzymes are visualized with electrophoretic analysis, a method that enables a profile of bands characteristic of each of the species to be shown on a gel.

"The PCR-RFLP technique is simple, quick and does not require the use of complex instruments, and may be applicable for both raw and heat-treated meats," said Ms Rojas.

For cooked meats, the researchers have also started to use "species-specific primers", which are molecules that only amplify certain small fragments specific to the researched species. This study (carried out thus far for quail, pheasant, partridge and guinea fowl) can now be viewed on the on line version of the Food Control magazine.

Authenticating poultry - a necessity

"Monitoring the authenticity of game meat is necessary to avoid fraudulent practices derived from the substitution of more valued species for others of lower commercial and organoleptic value", explains Rosario Martín, another of the study's authors.

The researcher points out that special care should be taken with pâtés and minced, pitted or pickled products, as in these cases the morphological characteristics enabling the identification of the origin of the animal species are not distinguishable.

Consumption of wildfowl meat in Spain has increased notably in recent years, and there are increasingly more operations dedicated to the intensive production of quail, pheasant, partridge and guinea fowl, known as 'alternative aviculture'.

Species identification is also important to verify compliance with prohibitions and bans established by hunting law, as well as to fight poaching and the trade of protected species, such as the capercaillie.

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