A 2020 study initially found the presence of DNA in precious corals, which led the authors to the conclusion that genetic testing of precious coral jewelry could be used to identify its species.
SSEF began offering coral identification services in partnership with the Institute of Forensic Medicine that summer as a result.
Building upon the 2020 findings, SSEF and the university’s Institute of Forensic Medicine further developed the methodology for genetic testing of precious coral objects, with the aim of being able to separate materials protected by the international treaty called CITES from those that aren’t.
Four precious coral species used in the jewelry trade are listed in CITES’ Appendix III, which means they require species-specific and county-of-origin documentation to be traded and transported across international borders.
Up to now, customs authorities have relied on the color of a coral specimen to indicate the species identity, SSEF said, noting there are issues with this reliability since different coral species can have similar color ranges.
The result of the recent study is designed to aid in this area—the team developed a forensically validated genetic technique called Coral-ID, which uses quasi non-destructive sampling to identify species.
They tested Coral-ID on 20 samples that had been seized by the Swiss customs authorities between 2009 and 2017 because they lacked valid CITES documentation.
Thirteen could be analyzed; three were thought to be from CITES-listed species, while 10 originated from non-CITES-listed species.
The full report was published in in scientific journal Forensic Science International: Genetics and can be found online.
“The research shows the importance of carrying out fundamental science and peer-reviewed research on raw materials used in the jewelry industry. Genetic analysis of precious corals is clearly a very useful tool to achieve greater transparency in the trade,” said SSEF Director Michael S. Krzemnicki.