Hand-held sensor detects fraudulent fish

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Is that really grouper? The QuadPyre RT-NASBA can tell you (Photo: Shutterstock)

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According to a study conducted by international non-profit group Oceana, approximately 30 percent of seafood sold in the US is fraudulently mislabeled. That's why scientists at the University of South Florida have created a handheld sensor that can determine if what's being offered is in fact the real thing.

Seafood fraud is particularly common with grouper in Florida. It's a fish that's in high commercial demand, yet legally protected by catch limits. As a result, many seafood vendors and restaurants are selling imported fish that's called grouper, but is actually something else. That's where the QuadPyre RT-NASBA comes in.

The last part of the device's name is an acronym for real-time nucleic acid sequence-based amplification. Using this technique, it's able to purify and identify the RNA (ribonucleic acid) of a supposed "grouper" sample on-the-spot, in less than 80 minutes. Some previous identification techniques – such as those that identified a fish by its DNA – had to be performed in a lab, and could take hours or even days to complete.

Additionally, while past methods were thwarted by breading or sauces on cooked fish, QuadPyre RT-NASBA is not.

The device is now being commercially developed by spinoff company PureMolecular, under the name GrouperCheck. The company is also adapting the technology to identify other species of seafood fish.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Food Control.

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