Student Research Spotlight: Karthik Gopi

A new method for determining seafood provenance

Fraud in the global food industry is an ongoing and costly global problem, estimated to cause losses of over $50 billion USD to the food industry each year. These losses are especially problematic to the seafood industry, one of the fastest-growing global food sectors today. At present, there is no single method that can be used to combat the global issue of seafood fraud.

In response to this problem, AINSE RSS scholar Karthik Gopi, along with collaborators from the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University and ANSTO, have developed a proof of concept for a single reliable method of determining seafood provenance – that is, of verifying the place of origin for seafood sold to consumers, independently of the packaging label. To do so, they focused on using ‘iso-elemental fingerprints’ to determine the place of origin of tiger prawns.

The elements and isotopes found within each individual organism are unique to that organism and influenced by a variety of factors, including their diet, climate and environmental conditions. Measuring these elements and isotopes within an organism can therefore provide a unique “fingerprint” that varies by geographical location.

New Zealand snapper and rainbow trout being sold at a fish market. Authentic samples were a necessary part of this research, and were collected with the help of the Sydney Fish Market.

Through a combination of isotopic and elemental fingerprinting, Karthik and his collaborators were able to identify the place of origin of selected tiger prawns with 97% accuracy, and with no incorrect predictions of provenance. This proof-of-concept used cutting-edge methods to achieve these impressive results, including building on work by ANSTO researchers to adapt the Itrax X-ray fluorescence instrument at ANSTO, typically used to scan sediment core samples, with the ability to scan biological tissue to obtain the elemental fingerprints.

As a result of this research, a seafood consortium has been established with ANSTO, UNSW, Macquarie University, the National Measurement Institute and the Sydney Fish Market to further test and refine this new method in a larger-scale study.

To read more about the technical details of Karthik’s research, please see page 9 of the 2019 AINSE Annual Report.

Next Student Research Spotlight: Katherine Davies (New insights into a useful killer protein)
Previous Student Research Spotlight: Ben Humphreys (Intelligent coatings: creating surfaces that respond to their surroundings