A study led by researchers at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with NUI Galway, has resulted in the development of the world’s first scientific shellfish traceability tool.
The tool, developed by the Galway-led multi-institutional research team, can identify the harvest location of blue mussels and scallops with 100 per cent success, and can even differentiate between mussels reared at two sites located just 6km apart in the same bay.
The research was led by Dr Conor Graham of the GMIT Marine and Freshwater Research Centre in collaboration with Dr Liam Morrison, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, in association with the European Food Safety Authority, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, University College Dublin, and the Marine Institute.
“In recent years consumers have become more food conscious seeking traceability of produce and while such tools exist for agriculture, until now no scientifically based system existed to trace both farmed and wild shellfish produce to their source,” said lead researcher Dr Conor Graham.
“The aquaculture of shellfish such as mussels and oysters and the wild fisheries for scallops, razorfish, and clams is a multi-million industry in Ireland supporting thousands of jobs in rural maritime communities around our coasts. This research aimed to create the world’s first bivalve shellfish scientifically based traceability tool for Irish produce to promote this ecologically sustainable food.”
Dr Liam Morrison added: “In the context of an ever-expanding human population, we are increasingly relying on seafood as a source of proteins and other essential nutrients. Shellfish from wild populations and aquaculture account for a significant portion of overall global production, and this research collaboration was aimed at obtaining data to support policy on seafood safety, health, and environmental protection.”
This tool uses trace elemental fingerprinting of shellfish soft tissues and shells to identify harvest location.
The trace elemental fingerprinting approach not only correctly identified the site of harvest of scallops, but was also able to distinguish between harvesting events just six weeks apart, both with 100 per cent success.
The research was recently published in two scientific papers in the international peer-reviewed journal, Science of the Total Environment.
Trace elemental fingerprinting is somewhat similar to genetic analysis, but it identifies the variation in amounts of trace elements rather than variations in genes. Large numbers of trace elements contained naturally within the flesh and shells of shellfish vary uniquely according to growing sites. Although the shells of mussels and scallops are composed primarily of calcium carbonate, other elements are incorporated into their shells at relatively low levels as they grow, and this process is determined by the concentrations of these elements in the surrounding water column in which the shellfish live.
The details of this project will be presented by Dr Conor Graham in room 941 of GMIT tomorrow (Friday ) at 2pm as part of the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC ) research seminar series. This event will be of particular interest to regulators, shellfish retailers, and all industry stakeholders. Admission is free and members of the public are also welcome.