Scientists Use Forensic Techniques to Gauge Olive Oil Quality, Prevent Fraud

Scientists managed to quantify DNA present in olive oil with the help of breakthrough forensic techniques.

Dec. 6, 2016
By Reda Atoui

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Much like deoxyri­bonu­cleic acid (DNA) helps solve crimes, it can be used to con­trol food qual­ity and pre­vent fraud. It plays the role of a true iden­tity card, and that still holds true for plants.

Using DNA to deter­mine olive oil authen­tic­ity and qual­ity has proven to be a chal­lenge, though. That was true until sci­en­tists man­aged to quan­tify DNA present in olive oil with the help of break­through foren­sic tech­niques, as a result of a coor­di­nated, col­le­gial effort.

The goal is to develop a method to deter­mine if mono­va­ri­etal-branded olive oils con­tain oils from other vari­eties, or worse.- Gabriel Dorado Pérez

The rea­son it is dif­fi­cult to use DNA in order to deter­mine olive oil qual­ity is that DNA dis­solves in water but not in lipids (under­stand: fat), and olive oil con­tains few mol­e­cules that can be rea­son­ably and rel­e­vantly exploited. Besides, DNA is very frag­mented in vir­gin olive oil.

Scientists from the University of Córdoba have teamed up with their coun­ter­parts from the Council of Scientific Investigation (com­bined with researchers from the Institute of Sustainable Agriculture) in order to tackle the chal­lenge that poses olive oil DNA authen­ti­ca­tion and quan­tifi­ca­tion.

The team of researchers man­aged to come up with an absolute way of quan­ti­fy­ing DNA in vir­gin olive oil by using advanced foren­sic tech­niques that are usu­ally reserved for crime scenes analy­sis.

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Gabriel Dorado Pérez, a mol­e­c­u­lar biol­ogy and bio­chem­istry pro­fes­sor and the researcher respon­si­ble of the inves­ti­ga­tion group AGR-248 (Agri-food Biotechnology), as well as the Andalusian Plan of Investigation, Development and Innovation, gave his insight on the process: Surely, con­sid­er­ing the fact that vir­gin olive oil is the juice of a fruit, it con­tains water drops in micro­scopic quan­tity in which DNA dis­solves,” he explained.

In order to col­lect rests of DNA dis­solved in the water con­tained in vir­gin olive oil, the sci­en­tific group of experts used a foren­sics tech­nique called the droplet dig­i­tal-PCR.’ That tech­nique allows ampli­fi­ca­tion and quan­tifi­ca­tion of DNA, even in tough-to-ana­lyze ele­ments such as vir­gin olive oil and even­tu­ally allows researchers to gather rel­e­vant data.

The aim of the sci­en­tific team’s efforts was to pro­mote cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of qual­ity, ori­gin, trace­abil­ity and fraud iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Those ele­ments have proven to be cru­cial in the global olive oil mar­ket.

Better DNA quan­tifi­ca­tion leads to greater con­trol over olive oil qual­ity and ori­gin. The goal is to develop a trace­abil­ity method which will allow us to deter­mine if mono­va­ri­etal-branded olive oil bot­tles con­tain oils from other vari­eties, or worse, from other species such as sun­flower, peanut, or almond,” Dorado Pérez noted.

DNA from other sources present dif­fer­ent genet­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics; that is used to cer­tify olive oil qual­ity or on the con­trary to unveil fraud.

Indeed, frauds in the global olive oil mar­ket greatly impacts grow­ers, pro­duc­ers and mar­keters. The news of the group of sci­en­tists’ accom­plish­ment has been received with enthu­si­asm among many in the sec­tor.



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