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Bad news for fake pearls

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READER COMMENTS
24.10.13
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more comments
Published:
16.10.13
Science
Bad news for fake pearls
For the first time, a group of researchers has succeeded in isolating DNA from pearls and used their genetic material to identify the specific species of oyster that produced the pearl. In a parallel project, researchers used radiocarbon dating to analyze the age of pearls, opening up new avenues for determining the origin and age of pearl jewellery.cartier watches for men replica
Peter Rüegg
A researcher is enlarging the drill hole of a pearl to gain organic matter for DNA analysis. (Photo: Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF)
(large view)
For a long time, it was thought impossible
to isolate a pearl’s genetic material. Now, a Swiss research team has achieved
this elusive goal. Scientists Joana Meyer, from the ETH Institute of
Integrative Biology group headed by Prof. Bruce McDonald, and Laurent Cartier
of the Swiss Gemmological Institute (SSEF), under the direction of Michael
Krzemnicki, succeeded for the first time in extracting trace amounts of DNA
from a variety of cultured pearls in an almost non-destructive way. Using the
genetic code, they were able to differentiate pearls from three different
species of oysters vital to the jewellery trade. Their results were recently
published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE .cartier fake
The genetic material is likely embedded in
organic matter found in the calcium carbonate matrix of the pearl, as well as
in random pockets of organic matter enclosed in the pearl. The tiny amount of DNA recovered was sufficient to
determine the species of pearl oyster that produced the jewel in question. The examined
pearls were South Sea pearls originating from the species Pinctada maxima , Tahitian pearls from Pinctada margaritifera and pearls from Akoya oysters. This last group
is one of the most important producers of both cultured and natural pearls ( Pinctada radiata ). These naturally
formed gems can be very valuable and often come from the Arabian Gulf.
Non-destructive
sampling
An important part of the project was to
develop a technique for isolating pearl DNA without destroying the commercial
value of the jewels. The researchers used a fine drill to expand existing holes
in a barely visible way. The resulting 10 milligrams of drilled-out material was
sufficient to isolate enough DNA for the purpose of species identification.
A patent application has already been filed
for the method developed by the research team. In the future, it will be
possible to use it to differentiate between various kinds of pearls and to
provide better documentation of historical specimens. This will give dealers and
owners of pearl jewellery greater transparency and certainty regarding a
pearl’s source.
In a next phase, the researchers envision using
the pearl DNA to determine a pearl’s local origin, potentially allowing
jewellers and owners to identify the region or even the specific lagoon in which
a pearl was produced.
Age
determination with radiocarbon dating
In a parallel research partnership between
ETH Zurich and the SSEF, Irka Hajdas from the Laboratory for Ion Beam Physics
at ETH Zurich and Michael Krzemnicki from the SSEF sought to determine the age
of pearls using radiocarbon dating. This involved measuring the ratio of
radioactive carbon ( 14 C) to normal carbon ( 12 C) in the
nacre. This study, which was published in the scientific journal Radiocarbon , demonstrated how the true age
of pearls can be determined using the 14 C method. This method can
help clarify whether a historical piece of jewellery is an antique or a forgery
made of modern cultured pearls.
Identifying
forgeries
Pearls are among the oldest jewels used by
humans. Natural pearls, which form randomly in the mantle tissue of
molluscs, are especially valuable. It is often necessary to break open
thousands of shells to find a single natural pearl. Cultured pearls have been
commercially available only since 1910, but have been produced in massive
quantities since then. In 2012, China alone produced more than a billion pearls
for the jewellery market, most of which were cultured pearls from freshwater
molluscs.
Determining the type of pearl in a piece
of jewellery and its age and origin are becoming increasingly
important for the trade in both historical natural pearls and modern cultured
pearls. These new technologies will make it easier to expose frauds and
forgeries.
References
Meyer JB, Cartier LE, Pinto-Figueroa EA, Krzemnicki MS, Hänni HA, et al.
(2013) DNA Fingerprinting of Pearls to Determine Their Origins. PLoS
ONE 8(10):
e75606. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075606 Krzemnicki MS, Hajdas I. (2013) Age Determination of Pearls: A New Approach for Pearl Testing and Identification. Radiocarbon, Vol 55, No 2–3 (2013). DOI: 10.2458/azu_js_rc.55.16389
 
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