‘Horse meat is tip of iceberg’: Biologists invite Manchester to bring takeaways and ready meals for DNA meat testing

Ever wondered what that ‘meat’ in your takeaway or ready meal consists of?

A group of DIY biologists are hosting a ‘meet your meat’ workshop in Manchester using DNA tests to help you distinguish your Findus from your fish fingers.

Hosting a one day Mystery Meat workshop today, Manchester’s MadLab are inviting the public to become citizen scientists and conduct DNA tests on their pre-packaged meals.

After the horsemeat scandal MadLab will be finding out whether we can really close the stable door behind those rogue horses.

MadLab founder Asa Calow was also invited to California by the FBI to help them keep up with the growing number of DIY biologists across the world.

Mr Calow told MM: “Food fraud was a big scandal but horsemeat was the tip of the iceberg. Very few labs actually run these kinds of tests.

“We’re hoping to test a large cross section of samples from the public. I am convinced that food fraud is not often intentional but the journey from farm to table has become too complicated and mislabelling happens.”

On Saturday Manchester’s Digital Library will transform into a biohackspace, with assistance from Parisian community laboratory La Paillasse who developed a cheap and easy version of DNA barcoding, searching for the unique patterns in DNA that identify both individuals and species.

Commercial DNA barcoding is expensive and slow, but the method used by La Paillasse and MadLab a ‘quick and dirty’ analysis can be drawn in a few hours by workshop participants.

La Paillasse and MadLab share an open source ethos, encouraging the curiosity of amateur scientists at their community labs.

Mr Calow told MM: “MadLab aims to democratise cutting edge science and explore all the brilliant, accidental things that spring from that.”

Also sharing scientific know-how will be MadLab’s resident biohacker Noah Most.

Having travelled from the US on a world-wide trip visiting various DIY Bio spaces across several continents, Mr Most will be based at MadLab for the next few weeks.

With no prior scientific knowledge required, Manchester’s newest citizen scientists will get hands-on learning the basic techniques to search for unique DNA patterns. 

What are MadLab expecting to find? “We’re expecting to find cheap mince that has been mixed with other animal fat, such as beef mince combined with pork fat,” said Mr Calow.

Using the skills shared by MadLab biologists you can join them explore the DNA of any takeaways and ready meals and attempt to identify the mystery meats of Manchester.

Since its creation in 2008, MadLab have proved to have a taste the grimy side of life, previously leading workshops to swab bus stops to find Manchester’s grubbiest parts.

The team politely found Deansgate to be most ‘biologically diverse’.

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