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Unknowlingly consuming endangered tuna
Date:11/19/2009

efin tunaare highly sought by fishermen because a single fish can garner tens of thousands of dollars. But over-fishing has brought populations into sharp decline, and western stocks of northern bluefin tuna are estimated as 10% of pre-exploitation numbers, and eastern stocks are following suit because of rampant illegal fishing. Just a month ago, on October 16, the country of Monaco nominated northern bluefin tuna for Appendix I listing (a complete international trade ban) to be considered when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meets in March.

All eight species within the Thunnus genus diverged from their common ancestor recently and are even more closely related to each other than humans are to chimpanzees and bonobos. Because of this, previous attempts to identify tunas with DNA barcodes have not worked well, and Lowenstein and colleagues chose to use this group of animals as a case study to compare DNA barcoding techniques. In contrast with the more widely used genetic distance method, the team was able to reliably identify closely-related species with a genetic key based on 14 nucleotide positions within the cox-1 gene.

"Because we compared different methods of analysis, we could show that indirect estimates like genetic distances do not distinguish among tuna species. But our genetic key and direct sequence matching does work," says Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis, the coordinator of the DNA Barcoding Initiative for Conservation at the Museum. "The standard method for identifying species relies on morphological characters, so using genetic characters allows us to enhance taxonomic identification."

The results of the detective work are clear: while the most prevalent tuna found in sushi is bigeye (30, or almost half, of the 68 samples collected for this research), nearly a third of the tuna was bluefin (3 Pacific, 12 northern, and 7 southern bluefin tuna). Only eight of the 22 bluefin samples we
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Contact: Kristin Elise Phillips
kphillips@amnh.org
212-496-3419
American Museum of Natural History
Source:Eurekalert  

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