Southeastern biologists developing DNA-based tests for seafood certification program
Contact: Rene Abadie
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Southeastern biologist Kyle Piller and Mollie Cashner, a post-doctoral fellow at the university, extract tissue samples from Gulf of Mexico shrimp supplied by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Their research is aimed at developing tests that can be used to certify Louisiana seafood.
HAMMOND – A Southeastern biologist has been awarded a three-year $335,000 grant from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) to help develop criteria and tests that could be used in a state seafood certification program.
Kyle Piller, associate professor of biological sciences, said the state expressed an interest in developing the certification program following last summer’s oil spill, which had a significant negative impact on Louisiana’s seafood industry. Piller, who is already doing several studies for the department, was asked to develop a proposal that could help get the certification program off the ground.
“Louisiana seafood has long been known for its high quality, but there is concern that the state needs to restore consumer confidence in the seafood industry,” he said. “We’re looking to develop tests that the state would have at its disposal to certify the quality and legitimacy of Louisiana’s seafood program.”
Several of the tests in the certification program would be used to determine the presence of any contaminants, such as heavy metals or other unwanted elements.
Piller was awarded the grant primarily to study the genetics of the state’s brown and white shrimp population – part of a family called paenaeid shrimp, the most common species in the Gulf. LDWF is providing his lab with samples of shrimp caught off the Gulf coast.
The main focus of Piller’s research will be to determine the origins of shrimp being sold by wholesalers to ensure the seafood is from Louisiana as it is claimed.
Piller and his postdoctoral research associate Mollie Cashner will identify shrimp using several genetic approaches, in particular a relatively cost-effective identification process called DNA barcoding. Tissue is extracted from shrimp samples, the DNA is processed and sequenced, and then compared to a database of known shrimp DNA.
The researchers also will incorporate into the study other high resolution DNA approaches that are based on more variable markers to try to determine exactly where the shrimp are coming from and to develop baseline data on the variability of the shrimp populations.
“Right now, we don’t know if there are differences in the genetic stock of shrimp from Louisiana waters when compared to shrimp perhaps coming from Texas waters,” he explained. “This part of the study is basically forensic science to determine if there are different location-specific genetic markers for Gulf shrimp and to get a better understanding of the distinctiveness of genetic shrimp stocks in Louisiana.”