NSF International buys AuthenTechnologies to boost DNA testing

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

AuthenTechnologies acquisition brings next-generation DNA testing tech to NSF International clients
AuthenTechnologies acquisition brings next-generation DNA testing tech to NSF International clients

Related tags Nsf international Food Dna

NSF International has said its acquisition of AuthenTechnologies enables it to provide cost-effective DNA testing to help clients improve the authenticity, safety and quality of their globally sourced ingredients.

The provider of auditing, testing and certification services for the natural product and food industries said there is growing consumer and regulatory concern regarding the authenticity of food. 

AuthenTechnologies provides next-generation DNA-based species identification services to check the authenticity, safety and quality of foods and other products such as dietary supplements​.

Traditional DNA barcoding relies on longer segments of the same DNA region for identification but AuthenTechnologies claims to employ a method capable of identifying almost any species using shorter segments and validated reference materials.

This includes detection of unexpected contaminants, even those that cannot be distinguished morphologically or chemically.

Appropriate testing

Dr Danica Harbaugh Reynaud, global director, scientific innovation at NSF International, said it is important to ensure the type of testing you are doing is appropriate for the material you are testing.

“You also need to evaluate the qualifications, reference materials, and validation work that a particular lab has in order to determine if the testing is done in a scientifically sound manner,” ​she told FoodQualityNews. 

“Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) is affordable; in fact, our Clean Screen test that simultaneously screens for 11 fillers and allergens are less expensive than other ELISA or traditional PCR methods.”

AuthenTechnologies' semiconductor NGS machine platform can identify materials consisting of a single species or a mixture of species, screen for GMOs, allergens, fillers and filth.   

  • NSF International will hold a conference in London, UK on 12 February entitled ‘The Future of the Food Industry’

The technology can determine authenticity of raw materials, providing retailers and manufacturers with a method for reducing the risk of mislabeling products. 

It also strengthens NSF's supply chain food safety, seafood, non-GMO and gluten-free certification programs and will be part of services to help companies avoid issues of food adulteration and fraud.

Proprietary database

NSF AuthenTechnologies has a proprietary database of reference sequences from partnerships with universities such as Harvard and UC Berkeley, said Danica Harbaugh Reynaud.

“NSF AuthenTechnologies has developed validated specific tests for thousands of commercially used plant species that enable us to detect small fragments of DNA, as would be found in processed food products; whereas universal DNA/barcode methods are unable to identify species in these types of materials,” ​she said

“I expect there will be other companies claiming to do NGS analysis; however, they may be using universal primers vs. specific primers which are more sensitive and highly specific such as we use.

“Without the database of reference materials including specific primers and specific tests appropriate to distinguish closely related species in process materials with specific tests for the thousands of plants used commercially, then the application of these other technologies to finished dietary supplements and food products - especially those containing plant ingredients- will likely be very limited in comparison to the services we offer.”

Improve ingredient checks

NSF International said DNA testing can help clients improve the authenticity, safety and quality of globally sourced ingredients as the ability to identify species will help against food fraud and adulteration. 

It added in the future, the DNA authentication technology will support NSF Seafood clients seeking to verify authenticity of seafood and fish products and with product evaluations, laboratory testing, certification, audits/inspections and speciation to ensure product safety, quality, consistency, transparency and sustainability.

Danica Harbaugh Reynaud said as with any DNA-based test, DNA must be present for the technology to work.

“However, NSF AuthenTechnologies' methods are specifically designed to work in highly processed materials, where the DNA is degraded, fragmented, and in low concentrations, and in complex mixtures containing multiple species,” ​she said.

“Our methods are designed to detect short fragments of DNA (100-200 bases in length) which we compare to known DNA sequences in our proprietary reference laboratory (23 million plant, animal, fungal and bacterial species) to identify and authenticate the test sample. 

“Traditional DNA barcoding analyzes fairly long gene regions/ sequences that are approximately 500-1000 bases in length. Longer DNA strands are often broken or degraded during processing.”

DNA barcoding can fall short in differentiating between closely related species such as Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng). 

AuthenTechnologies employs specific methods which are capable of detecting trace amounts of low quality and fragmentary DNA in foods and their extract and raw material ingredients. 

The testing methods are able to identify up to hundreds of species in a single sample - even unexpected adulterants and contaminants - and provide relative ratios of the DNA sequences. 

NSF AuthenTechnologies will become a center of excellence within NSF International's network of ISO/IEC 17025-accredited laboratories. It will continue to be led by co-founder Danica Harbaugh Reynaud. 

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