|Totoaba, the Mexican fish that is quoted of higher value than cocaine.|
In 2013, the lab was faced with a task: to identify a swim bladder as belonging to the endangered totoaba or not. With the use of mitochondrial DNA, an altered swim bladder can be identified as a totoaba by distinguishing it from the next closest relative. But what is mitochondrial DNA? It's DNA that is found in the mitochondria of the cell, thousands of mitochondria per cell have this DNA that contains 37 genes. In 2013, this lead the Fish and Wildlife Service to prosecute Shong Shen Zhen for smuggling the swim bladders of totoaba from Mexico into the US to be sold on the black market.
The use of genetics in forensic science is imperative to solving crime, but we can't forget about the crimes against wildlife and biodiversity as well. The US Fish and Wildlife Service forensic lab is making strides and opening new windows to forensic science in wildlife protection , and it's only the beginning.