News | October 2, 2019

Irish Scientists Develop World's First Shellfish Traceability Tool

NUI Galway collaborate with GMIT-led research to support policy on seafood safety and consumer health

A study carried out by a research team led by Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) in collaboration with NUI Galway has resulted in the development of the world’s first scientific-based shellfish traceability tool. The research was recently published in two scientific papers in the international peer-reviewed journal, Science of the Total Environment. The study 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 in NUI Galway.

This unique tool used trace elemental fingerprinting of shellfish soft tissues and shells to identify the harvest location of blue mussels and scallops with 100% success, including mussels reared at two sites, located just 6 kilometres apart within the one bay. In addition, 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% success.

Trace elemental fingerprinting is somewhat similar to genetic analyses except instead of identifying the variation in a number of genes to create a unique genetic identifier, trace elemental fingerprinting analyses how 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, which is determined by the bioavailable concentrations of these elements in the surrounding water column in which the shellfish live.

Lead scientist, Dr Conor Graham of GMIT, says: “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. 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 scientifically based traceability tool for Irish bivalve shellfish (two shells) in order to promote this ecologically sustainable food.”

Co-lead of the study, Dr Liam Morrison, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway said: “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.”

The research was also conducted in association with the European Food Safety Authority, UCD and the Marine Institute.

To read both papers from the study in the journal Science of the Total Environment, visit: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969719340987?via%3Dihub and https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969719322740?via%3Dihub.

SOURCE: National University of Ireland Galway