To compensate for the limited number of morphological characteristics of fish eggs and larvae, we established a convenient and robust method of species identification for eggs of the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica) using a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that can be performed onboard research ships at sea. A total of about 1.2 kbp of the mitochondrial 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences from all species of Anguilla and 3 other anguilliform species were compared to design specific primer pairs and a probe for A. japonica. This real-time PCR amplification was conducted for a total of 44 specimens including A. japonica, A. marmorata, A. bicolor pacifica, and 6 other anguilliform species. Immediate PCR amplification was only observed in A. japonica. We then tested this method under onboard conditions and obtained the same result as had been produced in the laboratory. These results suggest that real-time PCR can be a powerful tool for detecting Japanese eel eggs and newly hatched larvae immediately after onboard sampling during research cruises and will allow targeted sampling efforts to occur rapidly in response to any positive onboard identification of the eggs and larvae of this species.
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