NSF International, a leading provider of auditing, testing and certification services for the dietary supplement, natural product and food industries, has acquired AuthenTechnologies, which provides next-generation DNA-based species identification services that improve the authenticity, safety and quality of natural products, including dietary supplements, foods and other consumer products.
Unlike traditional DNA barcoding, which relies on longer segments of the same DNA region for identification, AuthenTechnologies employs a highly specific and sensitive method capable of identifying almost any species using shorter segments and validated reference materials. This includes the detection of unexpected contaminants, even those that cannot be distinguished morphologically or chemically. AuthenTechnologies’ next-generation DNA sequencing can successfully identify materials consisting of a single species or a mixture of many species, as well as screen for GMOs, allergens, fillers and filth for a range of leading natural and consumer product companies.
There is growing consumer and regulatory concern regarding the authenticity of food, natural product and dietary supplement ingredients and products. 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.
With this acquisition, NSF International’s dietary supplement and food industry clients now have access to the most advanced DNA testing technology available. Combined with NSF International’s 70 years of auditing, testing and certification expertise, this technology allows for the definitive determination of the authenticity of raw materials, providing retailers and manufacturers the best method for reducing the risk of mislabeling products. This also assures the highest quality and safety for consumers of dietary supplements, botanicals, food, seafood, cosmetics and other natural products. The technology also strengthens NSF’s supply chain food safety, seafood, non-GMO and gluten-free certification programs, and will be a core component of NSF services designed to help companies avoid issues of food adulteration and fraud.
These services includes:
- Verifying botanical supplement ingredients. NSF International developed the only accredited American National Standard for dietary supplements (NSF/ANSI 173). NSF tests and certifies dietary supplements, including botanicals, to this standard to verify that what’s on the label is in the package and that there are no harmful levels of specific contaminants. Manufacturers and retailers seeking to verify the authenticity of the botanical ingredients supplied to them for their finished products can do so now via NSF International. In fact, 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.
- Mitigating food safety and food fraud risks. As the world’s leading global certifier to 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. The ability to accurately identify species will help in the fight against food fraud and adulteration.
- Reducing natural personal care product risks. Customers of NSF’s Cosmetics and Personal Care Program also benefit from DNA testing in addition to the auditing, training, product testing and certification services that NSF International provides to assist cosmetic companies in preventing adulteration, mislabeling and counterfeiting issues.
- Verifying food label claims. Customers of NSF’s Consumer Values Verified program, which provides non-GMO verification as well as gluten-free certification, True Source Honey and other label claim verifications, now have access to AuthenTechnologies’ DNA-based GMO and allergen screen technologies.
- Verifying seafood authenticity and speciation. In the future, the DNA authentication technology also will be used to support NSF Seafood clients seeking to verify the authenticity of seafood and fish products, and can be used in combination with NSF’s expert product evaluations, laboratory testing, certification, audits/inspections and speciation to help ensure product safety, quality, consistency, transparency and sustainability.
Traditional DNA barcoding vs. AuthenTechnologies next-generation DNA sequencing
The DNA test methods developed by AuthenTechnologies are different from other DNA-based methods in that they are highly specific and capable of identifying almost any species, even in highly processed materials and complex mixtures. 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®. To understand the distinction, it is helpful to first understand DNA barcoding.
Traditional DNA barcoding works by examining a standard DNA region (gene) of an organism for species identification. Certain genes tend to vary between closely related species and can serve as genetic markers for identification. This is similar to the concept of using a supermarket barcode scanner, where each item on the shelf can be identified by its unique barcode on the label. DNA barcoding analyzes fairly long gene regions (sequences) that are approximately 500-1,000 bases in length and compares them to known DNA sequences to identify and authenticate the test sample.
- Not as highly specific: DNA barcoding was first developed for identification of animal species, where each animal is distinct, such as distinguishing cows from pigs or fish, such as tuna from snapper. It is also useful for distinguishing between major plant groups, such as grasses from pine trees, or in cases where identifying an exact species is not required. Where DNA barcoding falls short is in differentiating between closely related species such as Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng) and Panax quinquefolius (American ginseng). Most botanists agree DNA barcoding is less suitable for plants, which have more dramatic differences between groups (for example, there are many species of daisies, and only one species of ginkgo) and are more difficult to distinguish due to different evolutionary histories and hybridization. The challenge in using DNA barcoding for plant species identification is locating the right gene regions (sequences) that contain the portion of DNA needed to identify that highly specific level of variation. This requires detailed knowledge of botany and research into the evolutionary history and biology of the plant being tested.
- Less suitable for processed ingredients and finished products: While DNA barcoding can be useful in some instances to authenticate raw plant material, such as fresh and dried herbs, it is less useful for authenticating finished herbal products/botanical supplements, which often contain extracts. Botanical ingredients or extracts used in dietary supplements can be processed in a way that removes or fragments much of the DNA material, while retaining the beneficial phytochemicals that consumers expect. This renders traditional DNA barcoding an inadequate method of authenticating the product as it requires longer regions of DNA strands to identify the species.
For these reasons, more highly specific DNA authentication methods are required: methods which are designed to detect short fragments of DNA (100-200 bases in length). AuthenTechnologies employs specific methods they’ve developed for authentication of thousands of plant, animal, fungal and bacterial species, which are capable of detecting even trace amounts of low quality and fragmentary DNA in a wide range of products, including finished dietary supplements, foods, and their extract and raw material ingredients. Utilizing AuthenTechnologies’ proprietary assays on the most cutting-edge, next-generation sequencing platform further allows the tests to simultaneously identify multiple species at one time. 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 developed the first validated DNA-based methods of botanical species identification, utilizing next-generation DNA sequencing technology, which is compliant with the FDA’s food and natural product manufacturing and testing guidelines.
“For more than 70 years, NSF International has helped establish product quality and safety standards for a wide range of industries utilizing the best science and technology available. The superior next-generation DNA test methods currently in use by AuthenTechnologies® will enable NSF International to continue this work, particularly for industries facing new challenges associated with global food and dietary ingredient supply chains,” said Lori Bestervelt, Ph.D., NSF International Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. “As the food supply chain becomes more complex and regulations continue to evolve and become more rigorous, this technology is becoming essential to achieving regulatory compliance and brand protection while preventing issues associated with fraud, mislabeling and adulteration.”
“The only way to ensure safe and high quality, compliant products is to know what’s in them. And the most sensitive, specific and reliable method to identify organisms — from microbes to plant allergens — is using DNA. We’ve developed a more highly specific DNA methodology capable of identifying a single organism to a complex blend of unlimited ingredients. Joining NSF International will bring our unmatched capabilities in DNA-based testing to customers in the food, dietary supplement and natural product industries worldwide,” said Danica Harbaugh Reynaud, Ph.D., Co-Founder of AuthenTechnologies.
Going forward as NSF AuthenTechnologies, it will become a center of excellence within NSF International’s global network of ISO/IEC 17025-accredited, state-of-the-art laboratories. It will continue to be led by co-founder Dr. Reynaud, who joins NSF International as Global Director of Scientific Innovation.
Prior to founding AuthenTechnologies, Dr. Reynaud was a Visiting Scholar in the Botany Department at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics in Washington, D.C. as well as Director of Quality Control Plant Taxonomy at Bionovo, Inc., a botanical drug development company in Emeryville, Calif.
She holds a B.A. and Ph.D. in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Reynaud is also very active in the botanical sciences, serving as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the American Botanical Council, the Analytical Laboratories Committee of the American Herbal Products Association, the Botanical Society of America, the American Society of Plant Taxonomists and the AOAC International’s Expert Review Panel on Botanical Identification Method Validation. Dr. Reynaud also founded and served as executive director of the nonprofit International Sandalwood Foundation.
Under Dr. Reynaud’s leadership, AuthenTechnologies® developed proprietary test methods through partnerships with leading standards-setting and regulatory organizations including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), AOAC International, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).