Multiplex PCR assay discriminates rabbit, rat and squirrel meat in food chain

<p>Rabbit meat is receiving increasing attention because it contains a high level of proteins with relatively little fat. On the other hand, squirrel meat is served in upper-class meals in certain countries, so is sold at higher prices. The other side of the coin is rat meat, which has family ties with rabbit and squirrel but poses substantial threats to public health because it is a potential carrier of several zoonotic organisms. Recently, rat meat was mislabelled and sold as lamb after chemical modification. Thus, the chances of rabbit and squirrel meat substitution by rat meat cannot be ruled out. For the first time, a multiplex PCR assay was developed in Malaysia for the discriminatory identification of rat, rabbit and squirrel in the food chain. Rabbit (123 bp), rat (108 bp) and squirrel (243 bp) targets were amplified from <i>ATP6</i> and <i>cytb</i> genes, along with a eukaryotic internal control (141bp). The products were sequenced and cross-tested against 22 species. A total of 81 reference samples and 72 meatball specimens were screened to validate the assay. Analyte stability was evaluated through boiling, autoclaving and micro-oven cooking. The tested lower limits of detection were 0.01 ng DNA for pure meat and 0.1% for meatballs.</p>