In India, cows are considered as a sacred animal as well as mother. Therefore slaughtering of cows is banned in many states of India. Still it is practiced in these states without any fear. Hence, DNA test is employed by the forensic laboratories to test the beef.
Currently, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi are some of the states that carry out forensic DNA tests to identify beef. The process involves extracting DNA from raw or cooked meat. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique is employed to rapidly replicate millions of copies of specific DNA.
According to the data journalism portal India Spend, India reported 123 mob attacks between 2010 and 2018 on suspicion of possessing or transporting cow meat. A single test on a suspected beef sample at the National Research Centre on Meat can cost up to Rs 10,000, whereas Delhi’s Forensic Science Laboratory spends roughly 2 lakh rupees on a kit that can test 100 samples.
Gujarat has become the first state in the country to introduce a rapid test that could confirm within an hour if the meat seized on suspicion of being beef is from a cow. The method is called Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) DNA method, which is claimed to be a better alternative to conventional methods like serological analysis and other DNA analysis that take more than a day.
The development of LAMP method for forensic investigation of closed inter-species animals was completed in 2020 by the Kadi Sarva Vishwavidyalaya under the guidance of Prof Vivek Upasani, said Nikunj Brahmbhatt, a senior faculty at National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU), in his doctoral thesis.
According to Professor Brahmbhatt with the LAMP DNA method, the sample can be analysed on the spot, without the need for a lab setting. Scientists apply the LAMP test in cases where they think that serological methods are not providing conclusive results. Sometimes the seized samples are mixed with more than one type of meat to dupe the agencies. However, this test can identify beef even from such smaller or cooked meat samples as well.
Earlier serological tests such as ELISA were used which were time consuming and have low sensitivity, therefore it is falling out of favour. Also, the technique of PCR is an expensive one, therefore LAMP was developed, which does not require different temperatures and is performed at a constant temperature of 65 degrees Celsius. LAMP was first defined in 2000 by researchers from Japan.
As per the senior DFS officials of Gujarat, the serological method is cost-effective and is currently used by the Cow Meat Testing Forensic Mobile Vans across the state. The molecular DNA methods are employed in disputed cases or cases where the serological methods don’t give good or clear results. The LAMP DNA methods will need standardization based on the inputs from the field. The method will then be evaluated and employed at a larger scale after standardization.