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Students discover new species of cockroach in New York

04/01/2010 12:01:51

A genetically distinct "mystery" cockroach that might be a new species. By appearance it looks like the American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana) but it is genetically different.

Student sleuths using DNA reveal potential new cockroach species and new evidence of food fraud in New York homes

January 2010. Two New York City high school students exploring their homes using the latest high-tech DNA analysis techniques were astonished to discover a veritable zoo of 95 animal species surrounding them, in everything from fridges to furniture, from sidewalks to shipping boxes, and from feather dusters to floor corners.

DNA barcoding reveals new species, and consumer fraud
Guided by DNA "barcoding" experts at The Rockefeller University and the American Museum of Natural History, Grade 12 students Brenda Tan and Matt Cost of Trinity School, Manhattan, also revealed a lot of apparent consumer fraud in progress, finding that the labels of 11 of 66 food products purchased at local markets misrepresented the actual contents.

New cockroach
Among other things, Tan and Cost also found an invasive species of insect in a box of grapefruit from Texas. And the duo might get to name what could be a new species or subspecies of cockroach revealed by DNA barcoding.

Consumer fraud
The work builds on the 2008 "sushi-gate" findings of two other Trinity School students, Kate Stoeckle and Louisa Strauss, who found one-quarter of fish they bought at markets and restaurants in Manhattan were mislabelled. Some labels hid endangered fish species but most misrepresented cheap fish species like tilapia, sold as expensive species like tuna.

The new barcoding study by Tan and Cost uncovered additional examples and types of "mislabelled" food products:
An expensive specialty "sheep's milk" cheese made in fact from cow's milk;

  • "Venison" dog treats made of beef;
  • "Sturgeon caviar" that was really Mississippi paddlefish;
  • A delicacy called "dried shark," which proved to be freshwater Nile perch from
  • A label of "frozen Yellow catfish" on Walking catfish, an invasive species;
  • "Dried olidus" (smelt) that proved to be Japanese anchovy, an unrelated fish;
  • "Caribbean Red snapper" that turned out to be Malabar blood snapper, a fish from Southeast Asia.

Animals that the students found they were living with include:

  • Genetically distinct cockroaches that might be a new species or subspecies. The specimens collected looked to be ordinary American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana) but their DNA differed by about 4% from the reference sequence
    (differences within species are usually 1% or less).
  • A strange-looking long-legged House centipede - an alien species that originated in Europe.
  • An Oriental latrine fly - an invasive species now in the southern US. It was found inside a box of grapefruit shipped from Texas.

"It's exciting to learn still more after you know a species name. For example, ‘dried shredded squid' turned out to be Jumbo flying squid (Dosidicus gigas). We looked up Jumbo flying squid and found it grows to 100 lbs, swims at depths up to 2,000 feet, travels in large schools containing hundreds of individuals, and hunts in cooperative packs like wolves. This gave us new thoughts about the oceans and about calamari salad!"

"There were a lot of surprises," adds Cost. "We tested ‘buffalo mozzarella' cheese and found it is made from the milk of Water buffalos! We asked some adults who have ordered it on restaurant menus and they didn't know that."

The January edition of BioScience magazine will report on their "DNA House" project, detailed as well online.

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