Meat Identification Project to Combat Food Fraud Wins UK Government Grant

RSSL, in partnership with two other UK companies has 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 recognised 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 miniaturised 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 utilising SG Bio’s DNA expertise, Arrayjet’s printing specialisation and RSSL’s (a certified food-testing laboratory) expertise in food authenticity. Background information below.

SG Bio will design and calibrate the test utilising 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.

Background:

SG Bio has developed a unique process using 3D microarrays for the multiplexed detection of different species or pathogens from a single sample quickly and cost effectively with high- throughput and accuracy. In excess of 100 species could be identified from the same sample. Current testing using other methods is conducted on a test per species basis.

Arrayjet developed a proprietary inkjet microarray platform (capable of printing microscopic patterns of biological fluids) to provide innovative solutions to life sciences, diagnostics and pharmaceutical companies. Founded with investment from Archangel Informal Investment and the Scottish Government, Arrayjet has customers across 20 countries and offers printing instrumentation, contract manufacturing and assay development services.

Reading Scientific Services is a leading specialist scientific consultancy providing outsourced analysis, research and training globally to the food, drink, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical sectors.

Campden BRI is a leading provider of technical support to the food industries, with extensive experience of food and drink analysis, and are scheduled be a sub-contractor to the project.

The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency. Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy. For more information please visit www.innovateuk.org.

The Food Standards Agency (“FSA”) is an independent Government Department and is responsible for food safety and food hygiene across the UK. It commissions research related to food safety which is focused on helping the FSA understand food issues and meet its policy aims and objectives.

The FSA has joined up with the Technology Strategy Board (“TSB”) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to co-fund innovative research on food safety through the TSB’s competition ‘Nutrition for Life – Providing Safe and Healthy Foods’ that was launched in May 2013.

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