NSF International Acquires DNA Testing Lab, Goes Beyond Traditional DNA Barcoding


According to NSF, AuthenTechnologies’ “cutting-edge, next-generation” DNA sequencing techniques are more sensitive than traditional DNA barcoding methods.

Photo © iStockphoto.com/Сергей Хакимуллин

NSF International (Ann Arbor, MI) announced today it has acquired DNA testing laboratory AuthenTechnologies (Richmond, CA). According to NSF, AuthenTechnologies’ “cutting-edge, next-generation” DNA sequencing techniques are more sensitive than traditional DNA barcoding methods, meaning they can drill down to very specific ingredient identification, including identifying unexpected adulterants and identifying plant species in highly processed finished products containing mixtures of plant species.

“Unlike traditional DNA barcoding, which relies on longer segments of the same DNA region for identification, AuthenTechnologies [now called NSF AuthenTechnologies] employs a highly specific and sensitive method capable of identifying almost any species using shorter segments and validated reference materials,” said NSF in a press release. “This includes the detection of unexpected contaminants, even those that cannot be distinguished morphologically or chemically.”

AuthenTechnologies’ DNA sequencing can even identify species in materials containing a complex mixtures of many plant species, NSF says, as well as highly processed materials such as extracts-capabilities typically challenging for traditional DNA barcoding. It can also screen for GMOs, allergens, fillers, and “filth,” NSF says.

NSF will now add these DNA testing services to its auditing, testing, and certification services for dietary supplements and food. Clients can use DNA testing to “definitively” determine the authenticity, safety, and quality of raw materials and to prevent mislabeling of products.

Adding DNA testing will strengthen the company’s ability to verify botanical supplement ingredients, part of its program for testing and certifying dietary supplements to verify that “what’s on the label is in the package” and to ensure against harmful contaminants. “DNA-based testing coupled with advanced chemical analysis can identify the plant part and quantify its chemical constituents and/or contaminants down to trace levels,” the firm confirms.

“With this acquisition, NSF International’s dietary supplement and food industry clients now have access to the most advanced DNA testing technology available,” the company adds.

DNA testing will also enhance NSF’s food-safety certification programs, which include Global Food Safety Initiative-benchmarked standards such as SQF, BRC, FSSC, and others. “NSF International can now provide food-safety clients the additional benefit of cost-effective DNA testing that can help them improve the authenticity, safety, and quality of their globally sourced ingredients,” NSF says. “The ability to accurately identify species will help in the fight against food fraud and adulteration.”

NSF’s Cosmetics and Personal Care Program will also benefit from the added technology, as will its services for non-GMO, gluten-free, honey source, and seafood verification.

“There is growing consumer and regulatory concern regarding the authenticity of food, natural product, and dietary supplement ingredients and products,” NSF continued. “Retailers and brand owners that manufacture, source, and sell food and dietary ingredients and finished products are required by U.S. federal regulations to validate the authenticity of ingredients and raw materials from suppliers around the world to help protect against safety, adulteration, and regulatory risks.”


Different Approaches to DNA Testing

NSF points out that there are many ways to do DNA testing and that some are better than others-such as AuthenTechnologies’ DNA sequencing method that can locate and isolate the right gene sequences containing the portion of DNA needed for accurate identification.

“While DNA barcoding has become synonymous with ‘DNA testing’ or ‘DNA authentication,’ there are numerous other ways to perform DNA testing, including specific next-generation DNA sequencing, as developed by AuthenTechnologies,” NSF says.

While traditional barcoding typically examines a standard DNA region (gene), this method may not always be specific enough considering that genes can vary closely between related plant species. “Where DNA barcoding falls short is in differentiating between closely related species such as Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng),” NSF says. “Most botanists agree DNA barcoding is less suitable for plants, which have more dramatic differences between groups-for example, there are many species of daises, and only one species of ginkgo-and are more difficult to distinguish due to different evolutionary histories and hybridization.”

Because AuthenTechnologies’ DNA sequencing methods can detect short fragments of DNA (100-200 bases in length), it can provide a much more specific level of authentication. By contrast, traditional DNA barcoding analyzes fairly long gene regions (sequences) that are approximately 500-1000 bases in length and then compares them to known DNA sequences.

“Utilizing AuthenTechnologies’ proprietary assays of the most cutting-edge, next-generation sequencing platform further allows the tests to simultaneously identify multiple species at one time,” NSF adds. “In fact, 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.”

AuthenTechnologies cofounder Danica Reynaud, PhD, was a prominent voice supporting proper use of DNA testing technologies when controversies arose last year over the technology following an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of the dietary supplement industry. Reynaud coauthored a white paper explaining the technology’s use for plant identification, which was sponsored by leading trade associations for dietary supplements.

Also read this article Dr. Reynaud wrote for Nutritional Outlookexplaining the merits of DNA testing back in 2011.


Jennifer Grebow
Nutritional Outlook magazine

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