‘Sequencing Fish Samples’ Viral Twitter Thread

‘Sequencing Fish Samples’ Viral Twitter Thread

I just got the results back from my class' foray in sequencing fish samples. — Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019 David and Nicolas both sequenced what they thought was Steelhead trout (aka Rainbow trout). — Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019 Reena sequenced what was labelled (on the box I bought at the grocery store, no less) Icelandic Cod (MSC-certified). — Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019 Jade sequenced what the sushi restaurant (who shall remain nameless…it's probably not their fault) called red tuna. — Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019 In at least one instance, the findings were a substitution for a better type of fish: Moe sequenced one of the two samples (from different restaurants) labelled "white tuna". Was *supposed* to be Salmon — Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019 This salmon was not from a restaurant, but was instead purchased from the seafood department of a local grocery store. That item cited conservation group Oceana as a source for the original interest in fish fraud, and an undated page on that organization’s website described an extremely broad percentage of mislabeled seafood: Seafood fraud is the practice of misleading consumers about their seafood in order to increase profits. […] Recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for fish like red snapper, wild salmon, and Atlantic cod, disguising species that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available. The good news is that sushi represented as tuna was almost always tuna. Salmon was mislabeled only about one in 10 times.

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On April 6 2019, a screenshots (archived here) of a Twitter thread originally published by @AwesomeBioTA one day prior went viral on social media:

In the original thread, the poster (@AwesomeBioTA) recounted the purported results of her class’s attempt to sequence samples of seafood gathered at places like supermarkets and sushi restaurants:

OH BOY OH BOY.
I just got the results back from my class’ foray in sequencing fish samples. ARE YOU READY? They’re a mind-bender. https://t.co/O7yBCHEQg4

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

Josue sequenced some red snapper. I put money on that being tilapia and…I was right. Someone owes me $5.
His lab partner, Juanni, sequenced Atlantic Salmon. Comes back as Rainbow trout. Unsurprising. Not the same species AT ALL, but unsurprising.

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

David and Nicolas both sequenced what they thought was Steelhead trout (aka Rainbow trout). David’s was smoked, Nic’s not.

Nic’s was rainbow trout.

David’s was coho salmon.

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

Reena sequenced what was labelled (on the box I bought at the grocery store, no less) Icelandic Cod (MSC-certified).
It was. Thank God.

Sydney sequenced what was labelled (again, ON THE BOX purchased at the grocery store) Pacific Cod.
It was Atlantic Cod. (CRINGEEEE!!!!!!)

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

Jade sequenced what the sushi restaurant (who shall remain nameless…it’s probably not their fault) called red tuna.

IT WAS TILAPIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

In at least one instance, the findings were a substitution for a better type of fish:

Moe sequenced one of the two samples (from different restaurants) labelled “white tuna”. Often another name for albacore tuna.
It was yellowfin tuna. (NOT the same species!! A trade upwards)

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

But other results were not as benign:

Evalyne sequenced the other sample of “white tuna”. That was the one that I brought in, that I theoretically would have eaten if I actually liked and ate “white tuna” (I think it’s gross).
It was escolar.

THIS IS DANGEROUS. Can cause extreme gastrointestinal distress.

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

Last but not least of successful sample runs, we had one that makes my skin crawl. It was a sequence that came back with a bunch of “unknown bases” (a bit of cleaning up will help immensely) but I worked with what I had and ran it through the database. Was *supposed* to be Salmon

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

This salmon was not from a restaurant, but was instead purchased from the seafood department of a local grocery store. Again, to remain nameless. This was purchased from a counter, someone reaches in and grabs the fish, puts it in a bag, sticks a sticker on it, pay by the pound.

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

Body louse.

I think I might vomit in my mouth a little.
I hope this is a mistake. HOPE TO ANY GOD FROM ANY RELIGION that this is a mistake.

I hope that this somehow becomes a fish sequence when I clean it up a bit. BUT BODY LOUSE.

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

This wasn’t a piece of garbage from a market. This was from a “salmon fillet” that someone paid good money for, cut some off before they cooked it, put it in saran wrap & brought it in.

BODY LOUSE.

Think about how much there must be in that sample to override fish DNA!

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

The thread concluded:

Anyway, I don’t know if any of my students are nearly as enthralled as I am about the results of this experiment. I’M THRILLED.

16 students, 13 decent bands on the gel.
Of those, we had 9 with pretty decent sequences. THAT’S NOT BAD.
Of those 9, TWO WERE LABELLED CORRECTLY.

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

So if you “are what you eat” and you like seafood? You have no idea what you are because nothing is labelled properly. If you want to know what you’re eating? Make sure it’s from a certified sustainable fishery. They know what they’re fishing, and know what they’re doing.

— Dr. Jen M (@AwesomeBioTA) April 5, 2019

The specific claims in @AwesomeBioTA’s illustrated a larger point: seafood obtained in seemingly trustworthy ways was more often than not mislabeled. The stated results were compelling, but were they supported by evidence outside her classroom? Did that class just happen to get a bum batch of samples? The “body louse salmon” aspect appeared to compel readers the most, but so far we have been unable to find any other information about that portion of the research.

Seafood mislabeling has been a known issue in the United States since at least…

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