A new super-charged DNA test that can screen meat products for 12 species in one go – including dog, cat and rat – is being developed by British scientists and is likely to become available commercially within the next 12 months.
Safeguard Biosystems – along with Reading Scientific Services (RSSL) and Arrayjet – has received a £82,000 grant from the Technology Strategy Board, co-funded by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Defra, to develop the test and bring it to market.
Unlike standard DNA tests, the new test can check meat products for more than one species at a time, and results are available much faster – typically within six hours – according to Howard Sherman, chief financial officer at Safeguard Biosystems. It would also be cheaper than equivalent polymerase chain reaction (PCR) DNA tests.
Sherman said the test would initially be developed to screen for 12 species – cow, pig, chicken, horse, goat, sheep, turkey, donkey, dog, cat, rat and mouse – and would offer both qualitative and quantitative results.
He stressed the list of species had been devised to illustrate the capabilities of the new test, not because there was any actual suspicion that dog or rat would be found in UK food products.
In time, it was hoped the test would be expanded to check for as many as 40 different substances at a time, including fish species, fruits and vegetables. This would allow it to be used to verify the authenticity of fruit juices or wines, among others, he suggested.
“We are seeing this as a routine tool being used by processors, retailers and restaurant chains,” Sherman said, adding he expected the test to be ready for commercial use in 2015.
The new test used an element of PCR DNA testing technology, Sherman said but declined to reveal more details in light of pending patent applications. Safeguard Biosystems already offers testing programmes for the dairy industry under the DairyGuard name, and the new test it was developing was using the “same platform,” he said.
News of the new test comes as the European Commission this week announced it wanted a new round of randomised horse tests on beef products across the European Union. The tests – including about 150 samples from the UK - is set to take place this spring, with results to be reported by July.