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Mescal worm test shows DNA leaks into booze

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Just because you don’t swallow the worm at the bottom of a bottle of mescal doesn’t mean you have avoided the essential worminess of the potent Mexican liquor, according to scientists at the University of Guelph.

Researchers from U of G’s Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) have discovered that mescal itself contains the DNA of the agave butterfly caterpillar — the famously tasty “worm” that many avoid consuming

The BIO researchers set out to test a hypothesis that DNA from a preserved specimen can leak into its preservative liquid. As part of their study, they tested a sample of liquid from a bottle of mescal. The liquor was found to contain DNA, which they amplified and sequenced to obtain a DNA barcode — telltale genetic material that identifies species of living things.

Comparing the sample to thousands of records of Lepidoptera DNA barcodes stored in the Barcode of Life Data Systems database at Guelph confirmed that the mescal liquid contained DNA related to the agave’s family…

“Showing that the DNA of a preserved specimen can be obtained from the preservative liquid introduces a range of important possibilities,” Mehrdad Hajibabaei said. “We can develop inexpensive, high-throughput, field-friendly and non-invasive genetic analysis protocols for situations where the original tissue cannot be touched or when there is simply no sample left for analysis.”

Another important possibility is a helluva sci-fi movie about a drunk turning into a killer caterpillar.

Har!

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Written by Ed Campbell

February 12, 2010 at 6:00 am

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