Saffron, the spice produced from the red stigmas of the flower of Crocus sativus L. is a frequent target of fraud and mislabeling practices that cannot be fully traced using the ISO 3632 trade standard specifications and test methods. A molecular approach is proposed herein as a promising branding strategy for the authentication of highly esteemed saffron brands such as the Greek Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) "Krokos Kozanis". Specific ISSR (inter-simple sequence repeat) markers were used to assess for the first time, the within species variability of several populations of C. sativus L. from the cultivation area of "Krokos Kozanis" as well as the potential differences with the band pattern produced by other Crocus species. Then, species-specific markers were developed taking advantage of an advanced molecular technique such as the HRM analysis coupled with universal DNA barcoding regions (trnL) (Bar-HRM) and applied to saffron admixtures with some of the most common plant adulterants (Calendula officinalis, Carthamus tinctorius, Gardenia jasminoides, Zea mays and Curcuma longa). The sensitivity of the procedure was tested for turmeric as a case study whereas HPLC-fluorescence determination of secondary metabolites was also employed for comparison. The overall results indicated that the Bar-HRM approach is quite effective in terms of specificity and sensitivity. Its effectiveness regarding the detection of turmeric was comparable to that of a conventional HPLC method (0.5% vs 1.0%, w/w). Yet, the proposed DNA-based method is much faster, cost-effective and can be used even by non-geneticists, in any laboratory having access to an HRM-capable real-time PCR instrumentation. It can be, thus, regarded as a strong analytical tool in saffron authentication studies.
Keywords: Curcuma longa; DNA barcoding; HRM analysis; Plant adulterants; RP-HPLC; Saffron fraud.
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