World´s first seafood traceability tool launched by GMIT-LED consortium

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By Milthon Lujan

A study carried out by a multi-institutional research team led by Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) in collaboration with the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG) has resulted in the development of the world’s first scientific-based shellfish traceability tool.


The research was led by Dr Conor Graham of the GMIT Marine and Freshwater Research Centre in collaboration with Dr Liam Morrison, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway. The research was also conducted in association with the European Food Safety Authority, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, University College Dublin and the Marine Institute.

Lead scientist, Dr Conor Graham of GMIT, says: “In recent years consumers have become more food conscious seeking traceability of produce and while such tools exist for agriculture, until now no scientifically based system existed to trace both farmed and wild shellfish produce to their source.”

“The aquaculture of shellfish such as mussels and oysters and the wild fisheries for scallops, razorfish and clams is a multi-million industry in Ireland supporting thousands of jobs in rural maritime communities around our coasts. This research aimed to create the world’s first bivalve shellfish scientifically based traceability tool for Irish produce to promote this ecologically sustainable food”.

Dr Liam Morrison of NUI Galway says: “In the context of an ever-expanding human population, we are increasingly relying on seafood as a source of proteins and other essential nutrients. Shellfish from wild populations and aquaculture account for a significant portion of overall global production and this research collaboration was aimed at obtaining data to support policy on seafood safety, health and environmental protection.”

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This unique tool used trace elemental fingerprinting of shellfish soft tissues and shells to identify the harvest location of blue mussels and scallops with 100% success, including mussels reared from two sites located just 6km apart within the one bay.

In addition, the trace elemental fingerprinting approach not only correctly identified the site of harvest of scallops but was also able to distinguish between harvesting events just six weeks apart, both with 100% success. The research was very recently published in two scientific papers in the international peer-reviewed journal, Science of the Total Environment.

Trace elemental fingerprinting is somewhat similar to genetic analyses except instead of identifying the variation in a number of genes to create a unique genetic identifier, trace elemental fingerprinting analyses how large numbers of trace elements contained naturally within the flesh and shells of shellfish vary uniquely according to growing sites. Although the shells of mussels and scallops are composed primarily of calcium carbonate, other elements are incorporated into their shells at relatively low levels as they grow, which is determined by the bioavailable concentrations of these elements in the surrounding water column in which the shellfish live.

The details of this project will be presented by Dr Conor Graham in GMIT on Friday, 4 October, 2pm in room 941 as part of the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre (MFRC) research seminar series. This event will be of particular interest to regulators, retailers of shellfish and all industry stakeholders. Admission is free and members of the public are also welcome.

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Matthew Bennion, Liam Morrison, Deirdre Brophy, Jens Carlsson, José Cortiñas Abrahantes, Conor T. Graham. Trace element fingerprinting of blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) shells and soft tissues successfully reveals harvesting locations. Science of The Total Environment, Volume 685, 1 October 2019, Pages 50-58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.05.233 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969719322740 

Liam Morrison, Matthew Bennion, Stephen Gill, Conor T.Graham. Spatio-temporal trace element fingerprinting of king scallops (Pecten maximus) reveals harvesting period and location. Science of The Total Environment, Volume 697, 20 December 2019, 134121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134121 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969719340987 

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