DNA Barcoding analysis of seafood accuracy in Washington, D.C. restaurants
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In Washington D.C., recent legislation authorizes citizens to test if products are properly represented and, if they are not, to bring a lawsuit for the benefit of the general public. Recent studies revealing the widespread phenomenon of seafood substitution across the United States make it a fertile area for consumer protection testing. DNA barcoding provides an accurate and cost-effective way to perform these tests, especially when tissue alone is available making species identification based on morphology impossible. In this study, we sequenced the 5' barcoding region of the Cytochrome Oxidase I gene for 12 samples of vertebrate and invertebrate food items across six restaurants in Washington, D.C. and used multiple analytical methods to make identifications. These samples included several ambiguous menu listings, sequences with little genetic variation among closely related species and one sequence with no available reference sequence. Despite these challenges, we were able to make identifications for all samples and found that 33% were potentially mislabeled. While we found a high degree of mislabeling, the errors involved closely related species and we did not identify egregious substitutions as have been found in other cities. This study highlights the efficacy of DNA barcoding and robust analyses in identifying seafood items for consumer protection.