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Scientists work on DNA barcoding to help conserve ornamental fish

Indian scientists are using a new approach to identify animal species based on genetic labels or barcodes, to monitor and clamp down on trafficking of ornamental fish from the Northeast — a biodiversity hotspot., Examining genetic sequences can help differentiate species with high accuracy. Hence DNA barcoding can be applied even when traditional methods fail, said biotechnologist Sankar Kumar Ghosh.
“Combined with traditional methods of identification, barcoding can pinpoint threatened fish species being sold under nicknames or popular trade names by exporters in Northeast India, to mislead and avoid detection,” Dr Ghosh, professor, Department of Biotechnology at Assam University, Silchar, told IANS.
To lure hobbyists and enthusiasts, dealers in the northeastern states also adopt other unfair practices like the use of synthetic dyes to impart colour to the fish to make them attractive.
The northeast region is home to around 267 species of fish and about 250 are known for their ornamental value , said Dr Ghosh.
According to a Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute report, the region contributes 80 per cent of the ornamental fish trade in the country.
From small varieties like snakeheads (murrells) to bigger catfish and other unusual looking species, most fetch a good price in the domestic as well as international markets in neighbouring countries like Nepal and Singapore, said Dr Ghosh.
“Although there exist several regulatory enactments in India, aquarium fish are traded largely without endowment to the government and mostly from wild capture. This poses a threat of endangering the species,” he pointed out.
This has necessitated cataloguing the ornamental fish reserve and its diversity in the region. “So we collected over 100 samples of ornamental fish from river beds (the Brahmaputra, the Barak in Assam and rivers from Manipur and Tripura) and traders in Northeastern states and used DNA barcoding to correctly identify 51 ornamental fish species which are exported from the region.