19 May 2010   |   News

IASMA: New method for identifying oil from sharks


Research lead

A new method of analysing squalene and squalane, oils often used in the production of cosmetics and vaccines, can show whether they came originally from the liver of deepwater sharks, or from olive oil.

In 2006 the European Union imposed deep-sea shark fishing limits in the North-East Atlantic, and since 2008 some cosmetic firms have declared that they have stopped using shark squalane. Up to now however there has been no way that a manufacturer could determine whether the squalene or squalane they are using has come from sharks or olives.

A new method, using mass spectrometry will now reveal the source.

Squalane is used as an emollient and a hydrating agent in many cosmetics, and squalene is used as an adjuvant in vaccines.

Currently thousands of deep sea sharks are killed each year purely to supply a cheap source of these oils, with squalene being the second most sought after raw product of sharks after their fins. These compounds can be obtained from vegetable sources such as olive oil, but shark oil provides high yields of squalene and requires shorter processing times.

“Our method will protect both cosmetic firms and consumers from commercial fraud and will make it possible to promote the production of squalene from olive oil. It will also allow the origin of squalane within a finished product to be determined. Together, this will discourage the illegal fishing of deepwater sharks and thus contribute towards protecting sharks from the threat of extinction,” says the researcher Federica Camin, of the IASMA Research and Innovation Centre Fondazione Edmund Mach, in San Michele all'Adige, Italy.

The method uses an isotope ratio mass spectrometer coupled to an elemental analyser or gas chromatography/combustion system, to measure the ratio of two different forms of carbon (Carbon-13 and Carbon-12). In the study published in the latest issue of ‘Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry’, the team of researchers analysed 13 authentic samples from olive oil from Spain, Italy, France and Turkey and 15 samples from shark liver oil from Spain, Portugal, Japan and Korea. The Carbon-13/Carbon-12 ratios were significantly lower in authentic olive oil than in shark samples.

“The new method could be proposed as an official way of detecting whether any batch of squalene or squalane has come from animal or plant sources, allowing manufactures to make clear claims about the ethical status of their products,” Camin said.

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