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Rapid and simultaneous identification of body parts from the morphologically similar sharks Carcharhinus obscurus and Carcharhinus plumbeus (Carcharhinidae) using multiplex PCR

Author(s): Pank M, Stanhope M, Natanson L, Kohler N, Shivji MS


Many commercially exploited carcharhinid sharks are difficult to identify to species owing to extensive morphological similarities. This problem is severely exacerbated when it comes to identifying detached shark fins, and the finless and headless shark carasses typically sold in markets. To assist in the acquisition of urgently needed conservation and management data on shark catch and trade, we have developed a highly streamlined approach based on multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that uses species-specific primers derived from nuclear ribosomal ITS2 sequences to achieve rapid species identification of shark body parts. Here we demonstrate the utility of this approach for identifying fins and flesh from two globally distributed, morphologically very similar carcharhinid sharks (Carcharhinus obscurus and Carcharhinus plumbeus) intensively targeted in fisheries worldwide, and often confused for each other even as whole animals. The assay is conducted in a 4-primer multiplex format that is structured to simultaneously achieve the following efficiency and cost-reduction objectives: it requires only a single-tube amplification reaction for species diagnosis, it incorporates an internal positive control to allow detection of false-negative results, and it is novel in that it allows species identification even when DNAs from two species are combined in the same tube during the PCR reaction. The latter innovation reduces the required effort for screening a set of unknown samples by 50%. The streamlined approach illustrated here should be amenable for use in a shark conservation and management context where large numbers of samples typically need to be screened; the approach shown may also provide a model for a rapid diagnostic method applicable to species identification in general.

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