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Unlisted ingredients in teas and herbal brews revealed in DNA tests by high school students
Date:7/21/2011

Take a second look at your iced or steaming tea. Guided by scientific experts, three New York City high school students using tabletop DNA technologies found several herbal brews and a few brands of tea contain ingredients unlisted on the manufacturers' package.

The teen sleuths also demonstrated new-to-science genetic variation between broad-leaf teas from exported from India versus small-leaf teas exported from China.

Guided by DNA "barcoding" experts at The Rockefeller University, an ethno-botanist at Tufts University and a molecular botany expert at The New York Botanical Garden, co-authors Catherine Gamble, 18, Rohan Kirpekar, 18, and Grace Young, 15, of Trinity School in Manhattan, published their findings today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The unlisted ingredients included weeds such as annual bluegrass and herbal plants such as chamomile. The surprise ingredients are mostly harmless but could affect a tiny minority of consumers with acute allergies. Three (4 percent) of the 70 tea products tested and 21 (35 percent) of 60 herbal products had unlisted ingredients.

For example, DNA testing showed that an herbal infusion labelled "St. John's wort" (Hypericum perforatum) included material from a fern in genus Terpischore. A DNA "barcode" obtained from another herbal tea labelled "ginger root, linden, lemon peel, blackberry leaves, and lemongrass" matched annual bluegrass (Poa annua), a common weed unrelated to lemongrass. Four herbal infusions yielded sequences identical or nearly identical to the tea plant, C. sinensis but none listed "tea" as an ingredient. The most common non-label ingredient, found in seven herbal products, was chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

Four products yielded barcodes of plants closely matching parsley, but none listed ingredients in that plant family.

Other unlisted ingredients included the common weeds white goosefoot ('/>"/>

Contact: Zach Veilleux
zachveilleux@yahoo.com
212-327-8982
Rockefeller University
Source:Eurekalert

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