Fera Science unveils gelatine identification method

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Fera test finds species origin of gelatine-based products

Related tags Animal origin

Fera Science has launched a service to find the species origin of gelatine-based products.

GelSpec identifies the origin of gelatine (bovid or porcine) using high-resolution LC-MS/MS by detecting differences in the amino acid sequence of the gelatine protein and comparing it with a database of mass spectrometry data.

Gelatine can be derived from any animal bone and hide material. The species from which it tends to come from, due to cost-effectiveness and demand are cow, pig, chicken and warm-water fish (skin).

It is an important component of food, beverage and pharmaceutical products.           

Ensure integrity of gelatine containing components

Paul Brereton, head of agri-food research at Fera Science, said turnaround time is 20 days.

Food and gelatine manufacturers can submit samples for testing to determine animal origin of the gelatine. Customers interested in determining the limit of detection of a gelatine in their particular matrix can request this analysis also,” ​he told FoodQualityNews.

“Demand exists as we have received many enquiries from customers interested in submitting samples during the build-up to launching the service.”

Fera Science said it will help manufacturers and retailers better understand their supply chain, producers to be confident in labelling and prevent accidental and fraudulent blending of meat and animal products from different species.

It ensures products do not compromise religious concerns such as Halal and Kosher, ethical issues for those who wish to avoid certain items and addresses consumer concerns about the origin of animal bi-products.

Determining the species from which gelatine is derived has been ‘very difficult’ as the production process renders traditional DNA-based techniques redundant, said Fera Science.

“The gelatine manufacturing process involves aggressive processing, much more aggressive than in the processed food industry. This involves incubation in acid (24 hours) or alkali (three months). This process causes denaturation of the DNA,” ​said Brereton.

Incidentally, antibody-based technologies for determining the animal origin of foods such as ELISA tests have also been shown to be non-applicable for determining the animal origin of gelatine due to the highly processed nature of the collagen protein in gelatine.”

Method and database

GelSpec is the result of five years of development and validation on a range of foods and ingredients.

The method was originally developed in 2008 for the UK Food Standards Agency following intelligence with Trading Standards that injection mixes labelled as containing chicken material only may contain bovine or porcine gelatine or hydrolysed collagen as a plumping agent.

“Some of the injection mixtures were indeed found to contain hydrolysed collagen derived from cow,” ​said Brereton.

“This work was completed in collaboration with BioArCh at the University of York. The method has since been further developed to provide an efficient extraction protocol and been applied in-house to a range of foods and gelatines.

“In-house validation has included cheesecake, gum confectionery and avocado mousse matrices containing gelatine at 0.5% (w/w). We have also successfully identified the animal origin of samples supplied by industry, often containing mixtures of animal origins in addition to single-animal samples.”

The database was built up with biochemists of archaeology at BioArCh at the University of York.

Brereton said analysis of collagen, including collagen genomic sequencing data from a range of mammal species, identified a large number of peptide biomarkers that could be used for species identification in processed food.

“A wide range of collagens and gelatines made from the connective tissues of a wide range of living and extinct species have been analysed,” ​he said. 

“Furthermore, same-species test materials sourced from an international geographical range have been studied in order to create a large database with robust tryptic peptide markers of species origin.

“By mapping post-translational modifications (often increased by gelatine processing), racemization (caused by the aggressive processing during gelatine manufacture) and missed enzyme cleavage sites, we were able to identify a suite of species-determining peptide markers in gelatines in order to determine the animal origin.

“With extra analysis we can often also determine the degree of processing of the gelatine’s collagen protein which may be important in some cases of food fraud.”

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