Handheld DNA Tester Can Quickly Identify Illegal Shark Fins – Joins Fight Against Wildlife Crime

Source: National Geographic/Joshua Rapp Learn

Photo: Mark Conlin/Wikimedia Commons 

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It was April 2017 in a large fish market northwest of Mumbai. Shark fins destined for China were piled onto tables, with a good dose of blood to go around. Tens of millions of sharks are killed for the fin trade every year, primarily destined to become shark fin soup, and a quarter of the world’s sharks, rays, and chimaeras (a cartilaginous fish also known as ghost sharks) are considered to be threatened. The international trade in many species is prohibited, but it can be nearly impossible for law enforcement, and even for experts like Shaili Johri, a post-doctoral biology researcher at San Diego State University, to tell whether the fins are from protected species once they’re separated from the bodies.

The samples could be sent to a lab for DNA testing, but the it was an eight-hour drive away, and the test would take a full day to process. But Johri had a futuristic trick up her sleeve—a handheld, Star Trek-like device that can say what species a part belongs to in a fraction of the time, using only a small tissue sample.

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Photo: Mark Conlin/Wikimedia Commons

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