When rabbis from the Orthodox Union started finding worms in cans of sardines and capelin eggs, they turned to scientists at the American Museum of Natural History to answer a culturally significant dietary question: could these foods still be considered kosher?
Using a technique called "DNA barcoding" at the Museum's Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, researchers identified the species and life cycles of the parasitic worms to determine whether the food's preparation violated Jewish dietary laws. The results, which were recently published online in the Journal of Parasitology, show that although the food contains a handful of species of roundworms, it is kosher.
"About 75 percent of all pre-packaged food has a kosher certification," said Mark Siddall, a curator in the Museum's Division of Invertebrate Zoology. "Many people, not just those in the Jewish community, look for this certification as a symbol of quality assurance in food preparation. If you're a food provider and you lose that certification, you're going to take a large hit."
The study began last March, when rabbinical experts from the Orthodox Union, the largest organization that certifies food products for the Jewish community, brought a variety of kosher-certified sardines and capelin eggs to the Museum. Their concern: the presence of the worms might be a sign that intestinal contents were allowed to mix with sardine meat or preserved capelin eggs during food preparation. If that were the case, kosher certification would be compromised.
The key to determining whether the canned food was improperly handled is in the worms' life cycles, Siddall said. "Some species of worms live in the muscles of fish when they're in the larval stage," he said. "Other species live in the fish's intestines when they're adults. We already know the life cycles for these parasites, so all we have to do is figure out what species were present in the canned food."
To do this, researchers used genetic barcoding, a technology based on a relatively short region of a gene in the mitochondrion, an energy-producing structure located outside of the cell's nucleus, that allows researchers to efficiently identify the species from which a piece of meat—or even a leather handbag—came from.
Work by Museum scientists has long included and promoted this technique, which has identified the presence of endangered whales in Asian markets, documented fraud in the labeling of tuna, and determined the species of animals on sale in African bushmeat markets. In this case, the scientists identified a handful of different nematode species, none of which are known to live in the guts of fish during their lifecycles—therefore, there's no evidence of intestinal worms co-mingling with the fish meat or eggs.
As a result, the Orthodox Union issued a decision that the food remains kosher.
"To our knowledge, this is the first application of DNA barcoding to an obviously cultural concern," said Sebastian Kvist, one of the paper's authors and a student in the Museum's Richard Gilder Graduate School. "This paper really exemplifies what science is all about—helping people."
Other authors include Anna Phillips, from the University of Connecticut, and Alejandro Oceguera-Figuero, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Funding for the Museum's DNA Barcoding Initiative is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.
Kendra Snyder | EurekAlert!
Complementing conventional antibiotics
24.05.2018 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Building a brain, cell by cell: Researchers make a mini neuron network (of two)
23.05.2018 | Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering
24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy