DNA tool detects bee species fraud in premium honey

Sometimes, the price of premium honey is tied to the species of bee that produces it, as much as the plants from which nectar is collected and other factors like soil quality.

For example, honey from native, non-domesticated species, such as Asian Apis dorsata and Apis cerana is more valued – and commands a higher price – than honey from more conventional colonies of Apis mellifera.

Premium pricing however unfortunately inevitably creates a situation that fraudsters will exploit to try to make a fast profit, and it’s not uncommon for honey based on wild bee species to be targeted by mislabelling, or mixing of lower-cost, lower-quality honey from other sources.

Now, researchers from the Agricultural Institute of Slovenia say they have used a DNA-based technique to detect adulteration of honey from an entomological perspective – in other words by distinguish between honey and other products like royal jelly made by different species.

They developed a method of looking at a specific part of a gene called ANT (adenine nucleotide translocase) in DNA extracted from small samples of honey that could be used as a marker for the three different species – A dorsata, A cerana and A mellifera – using exon-primed intron-crossing (EPIC) probes.

Collected nectar is regurgitated by honeybees when deposited in honeycomb cells, leaving traces of their DNA and genetic profile.

“While the honey market is dominated by honey produced by the western honeybee A mellifera, which is nowadays spread worldwide, honey produced by species native to Asia may reach distinctly higher market prices,” they write in the journal Food Control.

One example is Korean native honey produced by A cerana, which can cost five- to seven-times as much as A mellifera honey.

“Our method offers a new tool in detecting certain kinds of adulteration and enables traceability of samples,” say the authors.

They also note that the most recent standard methods in honeybee product verification “do not include developed DNA-based techniques, which implies that DNA-based methods for entomological origin determination are not yet routinely used.”

The researchers recommend using DNA techniques to create a global reference database, which could be used worldwide to detect honey fraud, which they say is the sixth most common food adulteration.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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