As consumer demand grows for natural products, that growth drives the need for research of the product’s botanical ingredients. When developing products in the relatively new natural products industry, transparency, safety and efficacy are key elements to building consumer trust. Though botanicals have been used by people for thousands of years as a source of food and medicine, there have been limited resources allocated to finding the true identity of many botanicals. Plants, like people, can share similar appearance and traits but can be very different in other ways. When it comes to botanicals that are used as ingredients in food or medicine, we must properly identify them so that we may be certain of their intended interactions and desired efficacy. To date, much of this research has been conducted by academia, which has limited resources.
We need help.
Transparency within global quality control systems demands third party engagement with critical academicians who provide novel perspectives from cutting edge research and biotechnology. The University of Guelph, a comprehensive public research university in Guelph, Canada, is working with companies that develop and manufacture natural products to help establish The Natural Health Products (NHP) Research Alliance, in an effort to create new, mutually agreed upon standards for ingredient authenticity. A founding partner of the Alliance, Herbalife Nutrition is a great example of a manufacturer that does not shy away from this challenge as they demonstrate leadership in pushing the edge of science into commercial applications, which in turn can transform the industry and the regulations that drive quality assurance in natural products.
The NHP Research Alliance is a collaborative resource working with the natural products industry and its stakeholders to create new verification standards in molecular diagnostic testing, including the creation of a global standard biological reference material (RM) DNA and metabolomic libraries for natural health products.
Driven by leading industry partners and researchers, the Alliance uses novel molecular diagnostic tools to tackle major issues in ingredient authentication that challenge the natural products industry. There is a common goal among the Alliance members to create tools underpinned by rigorous science in order to ensure that consumers receive authentic ingredients within in products used to support a healthy lifestyle.
A catalyst for change
The catalyst for this changing industry is a disruptive molecular biotechnology that has been used to reveal adulteration in the supply chain of natural ingredients. The product security solution is to develop this biotechnology as an onsite tool that ensures the species ingredient supply chain is tested at all stages–from farmer to supplier to manufacturer to distributor to consumer–in a transparent blockchain ledger of validated tests. It is an honest system with positive or negative test results that are verified by a third-party cloud server linked to vouchered herbarium collections which are curated by University of Guelph NHP Research Alliance scientists.
Technology in practice
The stakeholders in this initiative include regulatory bodies that will ensure rigorous methods through beta testing and multi-lab validated studies. Although it sounds like a futuristic and daunting task, the first portable molecular diagnostic tool (Hyris bCUBE) co-developed by the NHP Research Alliance is already in a beta version at Herbalife Nutrition and several other leading industry partners. The vision is to have this type of portable molecular biotechnology used onsite throughout the supply chain by industry stakeholders as it is expediting testing from a 10 day turnaround time frame to 1 hour with greatly reduced costs for species identity testing.
The alliance has set out to enhance current industry standards with testing protocols that identify chemicals with genomic tests that capture the inherent diversity of life that defines species ingredients. The use of both methods provides a powerful tool for quality assurance methods that addresses authenticity and quality. However, both tools need to be anchored in vouchered herbarium collections, with DNA Reference Materials (RM) Sequences and these do not necessarily exist for all ingredients, nor are they available for botanical extracts, which are commonly traded in our contemporary supply chain of ingredients. In developing an extensive standard biological reference material DNA and metabolomic library for natural ingredients, the Alliance will house thousands of industry-sponsored samples, creating an accurate resource for developing and producing trusted products.
The Alliance is looking for more companies to join the vision for natural ingredients that sustain healthy lifestyles, because everyone deserves honest ingredients that match our expectations from labels on our preferred and trusted brands.
Steven Newmaster, PhD, is conducting leading international research on molecular diagnostic tools for NHP authentication, genomic diversity in plants, medicinal plants and natural health products His R&D has resulted in the development of policy on biodiversity, and International trade of herbal products including product authentication certification within the food and natural product industry within Canada, USA, Europe and Asia.
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