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Estonian honey received a unique DNA test in the world

After years of development, a honey DNA test was completed in collaboration between Tartu scientists and several hundred Estonian beekeepers. This test helps reduce fraud in the field and protects the interests of consumers and producers. The Estonian honey DNA test is one of the most comprehensive in the world.

Honey contains DNA traces from all possible organisms that bees and honey come into contact with. The DNA analysis identifies various plants, bacteria, fungi, and insects in the honey, providing each honey sample with a unique and tamper-proof DNA profile or fingerprint.

The honey DNA test allows for a more precise description of the composition of nectar-bearing plants and the monitoring of bee pathogens and parasites. Monitoring pests at the DNA level helps detect relevant outbreaks as early as possible, thus preventing severe economic damage. Additionally, honey’s complete DNA profile helps to verify product authenticity and origin, giving beekeepers an advantage in marketing their honey.

According to Kairi Raime, the head of food metagenomics at the Health Technology Development Center (Tervise-TAK), both counterfeiting and bee-related pathogens are considered the most pressing issues in honey production. “Our DNA analysis allows us to monitor 20 of the most essential bee pathogens or parasites using honey. We are unique in the world: such comprehensive analysis cannot be ordered from anywhere else today,” she stated.

The hope for honest beekeeping lies in the widespread adoption of the honey DNA test. Every producer is responsible for ensuring that consumers can buy genuine honey.
Peeter Matson, professional beekeeper from Nordmel OÜ

While pollen grain analysis under a microscope has been used for studying nectar-bearing plants, the DNA approach analyses honey at the molecular level and identifies not only pollen-bearing plants but also nectar and honeydew plants at the species level. The analysis of a single honey sample is based on 10-20 million DNA sequences, allowing the identification of all species whose DNA sequences are known today.

More than two hundred Estonian beekeepers donated their honey samples to develop a new DNA-based approach. Professional beekeeper Peeter Matson from Nordmel confirmed that numerous high-level forgeries were detected during the test development phase that existing tests could not reveal. “The hope for honest beekeeping lies in the widespread adoption of the honey DNA test. Every producer is responsible for ensuring that consumers can buy genuine honey. In addition to detecting forgeries, comprehensive information about nectar-bearing plants and pathogens is crucial for the beekeeping sector,” Matson emphasised.

The food industry attracts counterfeiters due to its high turnover and sometimes nontransparent production and supply chains. Kaarel Krjutškov, the director of Tervise-TAK’s service laboratory and associate professor of molecular medicine at the University of Tartu, expressed satisfaction that cutting-edge DNA methodology has extended to food analysis beyond medicine. “For Tervise-TAK, food metagenomics DNA analysis has untapped market potential to provide confidence and fair competition for food producers and retailers,” added Krjutškov.

According to Kairi Raime, the entire DNA analysis of food is innovative and transferable to other food items. “The application of DNA analysis to describe honey composition has been very successful and received positive feedback from beekeepers. A similar approach can be used in the future for other food products to reduce opportunities for counterfeiting and protect honest producers and consumers.”

Photo: The honey DNA test team (from left) bioinformatician Hindrek Teder, laboratory manager Kaarel Kryutškov and honey project manager Kairi Raime. Image: private collection

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