60-Second Science

NYC High Schoolers Find Fake Food Labeling with DNA

Working with professional gene sequencers, high school students Brenda Tan and Matt Cost identified food frauds and unusual animal species in the city. The research will appear in the journal BioScience. Adam Hinterthuer reports

Before you pay big money for caviar, check with two New York City high school students. Brenda Tan and Matt Cost worked with DNA barcoding experts at Rockefeller University and other researchers at the American Museum of Natural History to identify hundreds of food samples, assorted hairs and animal bits in their neighborhood. The Trinity School seniors discovered 95 different species of animal and 11 cases of fraudulent food labeling. Their findings appear in the January issue of the journal BioScience.

The professional researchers provided DNA sequences for the samples the students collected. The kids then checked the sequences against the database at

The high schoolers found everything from pigeons and Pomeranians to an invasive latrine fly and what looks to be at least a new subspecies of cockroach. A supposed sheep’s milk cheese was actually from cows. And alleged sturgeon caviar was just cheap Mississippi paddlefish eggs. But there was good news: all eight classmates who provided hair for the study turned out to be human.—Adam Hinterthuer

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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