Three UK companies have secured government funding to accelerate the development of a new test to combat food fraud in the wake of the horsemeat scandal. The test will detect any DNA in processed foods coming from at least 12 different animal species, including some not normally associated with the food chain. By quantifying the relative amounts of DNA, the test will also indicate the severity of any contamination or deliberate adulteration.
The one-year project is a collaboration between Safeguard Biosystems Holdings Ltd (“SG Bio”), Reading Scientific Services Ltd (“RSSL”) and Arrayjet Ltd (“Arrayjet”). Its potential impact was recognized by the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, who will co-fund it with the Food Standards Agency and the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs.
Additional funding is provided by the three companies.
This new test is based on proprietary DNA detection technology, developed by the lead partner SG Bio, and will allow identification and quantification of Cow, Pig, Chicken, Horse, Goat, Sheep, Turkey, Donkey, Dog, Cat, Rat and Mouse in foods.
The principle of the test is to identify the targeted DNA sequences in a given food sample and then to calculate the ratio of different species within a sample to establish whether adulteration or contamination has occurred.
The new test aims to reduce the cost and time of food testing so that it becomes possible to routinely check all points in the supply chain. The currently available tests are limited by cost and time. The key to speeding up the process and bringing down costs is making it high-throughput.
It will do this by taking advantage of microarray technology, which enables biological tests to be miniaturized and multiplexed. This allows multiple DNA tests to be carried out on a single sample simultaneously, whilst also enabling multiple food samples to be processed in parallel.
The project has been designed collaboratively utilizing SG Bio’s DNA expertise, Arrayjet’s printing specialization and RSSL’s (a certified food-testing laboratory) expertise in food authenticity.
SG Bio will design and calibrate the test utilizing a reusable DNA SensorArray™ capable of handling 96 separate samples at a time. Once the SensorArray™ design is completed, Arrayjet will be responsible for manufacturing them under tightly regulated conditions.
RSSL will be responsible for extracting DNA from a wide range of raw meat and processed food samples from verified sources and then using these to validate the SensorArray™. For independent corroboration, DNA samples will also be sent to Campden BRI for additional validation.
Expansion of the range of meat species will follow in future versions, as well as the ability to authenticate the breed or location of origin.
Migrating the technology to other food groups that are susceptible to fraud or adulteration such as fish, juices and wine is also planned.
Ultimately the partners would like to see the test used for mass screening by retail chains, regulatory bodies, restaurant and fast food outlets, meat processors and food producers globally to provide consumers with assurance as to what they are buying.
The publication of results is expected in late 2014.