Matt Cost, 18, and Brenda Tan, 17, of Trinity School

Brenda Tan, 17 and Matt Cost, 18 of Trinity School

Two students at the Trinity School on the Upper West Side spent four months collecting 217 samples of organisms in their neighborhoods in order to study DNA barcoding.  They were trying to identify the various species they were surrounded by in their daily lives.

Most of the conclusions were expected, until they examined a tiny specimen that they had found lying on its back in a West Side apartment.  What first appeared to be a dead American cockroach could be a previously undocumented species.  Further study is required before it can be determined by the American Museum of Natural History whether the two students came across a new species of cockroach, but that’s pretty amazing.

But it was nothing compared to what they found when they tested a New York street hot dog.  Just as amazing to the young native New Yorkers was that the hot dog bought on the street showed nothing but cow DNA.  While most New Yorkers expect some beef in their hot dogs, we kind of expect other things to be in there as well.  What exactly the other things are, we don’t dwell on too often.

A similar project was run about a year ago with two other Trinity students, and they found that the fish in several sushi restaurants in the city had been misrepresented. What was advertised as white tuna, for instance, turned out to be tilapia, a much cheaper fish.

This time around, Mr. Cost and Ms. Tan, who both volunteered to conduct the research, discovered that 11 of 66 typical household food items were mislabeled, including sheep’s milk cheese that was in fact made of cow’s milk, venison dog treats that were made of beef and sturgeon caviar that was actually Mississippi paddlefish. [NY Times]

Guess I’ll have to bring my portable DNA testing lab out to lunch next time.