By Brecken Branstrator
New DNA fingerprinting technology from SSEF and the University of Zurich will help identify precious coral in jewelry, as in this necklace featuring 55 beads from the Mediterranean Corallium rubrum species. (Photo credit: SSEF)
Basel, Switzerland—A breakthrough study about DNA fingerprinting for precious coral has led to a new service offered by the Swiss Gemmological Institute (SSEF) to identify coral species.

Researchers from SSEF and the University of Zurich’s Institute of Forensic Medicine recently published “DNA fingerprinting: an effective tool for taxonomic identification of precious corals in jewelry” in leading peer review journal Scientific Reports.

According to SSEF, the new methodology detailed in the article uses minute amounts of DNA recovered from precious coral to identify its species.

This is important because several precious coral species are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and need to be correctly identified and declared to be legally traded.

The DNA fingerprinting technology is minimally destructive, SSEF said, requiring “considerably less sample material” than other methods, with testable DNA being recovered from as little as 2.3 milligrams (0.0115 carats) of material.

SSEF’s Laurent Cartier told National Jeweler the coral material should be submitted loose for testing so the lab can access it properly; coral material strung on a necklace or in cabochon form could be unmounted, he added.

As with all scientific techniques, there are some limits—Cartier said if there is too little DNA or the DNA is too degraded, it won’t work.

But he added there are no other methods currently for conclusively identifying coral species, “so this can still be considered a breakthrough.” And, it has worked on all the samples SSEF has tested so far.

Cartier said they continue to improve the research and methodology as well as add material to their collection to provide a reference for comparison.

SSEF research, in fact, led them to discover a coral variety previously unknown as a species used in the jewelry trade: pleurocorallium niveum.

The lab’s testing will always be done in combination with other techniques routinely applied to coral, like trace-element chemistry and Raman spectroscopy, to give the lab access to new information, SSEF said.

The new coral identification service is being offered in partnership with the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Zurich.

For additional information and details, read the full article about the study on or visit the SSEF website.

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