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Mass Fingerprints Could Tackle Trade in Illegal Furs

Scientists at Saarland University in Germany have proposed the use of mass spectrometry to characterise animal hair that may help to tackle the trade in illegal fur.

Klaus Hollemeyer and colleagues treated hair strands with trypsin, a digestive enzyme that strips protein fragments from the strands. These fragments were then analyzed in the mass spectrometer which generates a spectrum of the protein fragments based on their mass using matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization mass spectrometry to give a unique fingerprint pattern.

At present, the way customs officers identify that a particular fur is illegal is by sight. Hollemeyer hopes to automate his technique so that it can be used by customs officers to monitor bulk freight shipments. The technique may also be applied to bird feathers, amphibian scales and mammal horns and hooves subject to the complexity of samples extracted from these materials.

Franz Hillenkamp of the University of Münster in Germany, the co-inventor of MALDI, reports that mass fingerprinting could also be applied in quality control, looking out for counterfeit items being passed off as branded luxuries from non-endangered species.


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