The real maccoyii: Identifying tuna sushi with DNA barcodes - Contrasting characteristic attributes and genetic distances Article

Lowenstein, JH, Amato, G, Kolokotronis, SO. (2009). The real maccoyii: Identifying tuna sushi with DNA barcodes - Contrasting characteristic attributes and genetic distances . 4(11), 10.1371/journal.pone.0007866

cited authors

  • Lowenstein, JH; Amato, G; Kolokotronis, SO



  • Background: The use of DNA barcodes for the identification of described species is one of the least controversial and most promising applications of barcoding. There is no consensus, however, as to what constitutes an appropriate identification standard and most barcoding efforts simply attempt to pair a query sequence with reference sequences and deem identification successful if it falls within the bounds of some pre-established cutoffs using genetic distance. Since the Renaissance, however, most biological classification schemes have relied on the use of diagnostic characters to identify and place species. Methodology/Principal Findings: Here we developed a cytochrome c oxidase subunit I character-based key for the identification of all tuna species of the genus Thunnus, and compared its performance with distance-based measures for identification of 68 samples of tuna sushi purchased from 31 restaurants in Manhattan (New York City) and Denver, Colorado. Both the character-based key and GenBank BLAST successfully identified 100% of the tuna samples, while the Barcode of Life Database (BOLD) as well as genetic distance thresholds, and neighbor-joining phylogenetic tree building performed poorly in terms of species identification. A piece of tuna sushi has the potential to be an endangered species, a fraud, or a health hazard. All three of these cases were uncovered in this study. Nineteen restaurant establishments were unable to clarify or misrepresented what species they sold. Five out of nine samples sold as a variant of "White tuna" were not albacore (T. alalunga), but escolar (Lepidocybium flavorunneum), a gempylid species banned for sale in Italy and Japan due to health concerns. Nineteen samples were northern bluefin tuna (T. thynnus) or the critically endangered southern bluefin tuna (T. maccoyii), though nine restaurants that sold these species did not state these species on their menus. Conclusions/Significance: The Convention on International Trade Endangered Species (CITES) requires that listed species must be identifiable in trade. This research fulfills this requirement for tuna, and supports the nomination of northern bluefin tuna for CITES listing in 2010. © 2009 Lowenstein et al.

publication date

  • November 18, 2009

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


  • 4


  • 11