A DNA technique used to identify foods is being used in Cyprus to tackle illegal bird killing.
The birds, around 22 species, are served illegally in restaurants as a delicacy known as ambelopoulia.
According to Nature journal, authorities hope that DNA can show whether a restaurant is passing off illegally trapped birds as chicken or another meat during a raid.
The method has so far been used in two cases pending in court, according to the Game Service.
Conservationists hope that this would help stem the practice, which sees millions of birds killed on the island.
“Illegal bird trapping is a serious and persistent problem in Cyprus. As a result of the large-scale and non-selective methods it affects hundreds of thousands of birds every year, of 153 different bird species, 78 of which are threatened,” conservationist organisation BirdLife Cyprus executive director Clairie Papazoglou said. “Tools such as the DNA bar-coding are important as they can help prosecute lawbreakers, through the identification of species and by providing proof to make a stronger case in court.”
The project is a three-year collaboration between researchers at the University of Pisa, Italy, and the University of Cyprus, BirdLife, and the Game Service.
According to Nature, the team’s unpublished work has shown that sequences from part of a single gene are enough to distinguish 81 bird species.
This worked even when the DNA was extracted from meat baked at 90 degrees Celsius, and cooked with salt or vinegar — “a method that matches local gastronomy but that could degrade the DNA,” Nature said.
The Pisa team has helped to set up a molecular-genetics lab at the University of Cyprus to do the DNA analyses.
It has also trained two game-service officers, so that they can testify about the forensic DNA evidence in court.