Thursday, January 14, 2016

Detecting chemical toxicity in foods-An "out of the box" approach

Food safety is a concern that affects the entire world and many advances in testing methods have enabled the food industry to improve the safety of the products made by it through deploying these advanced and highly sensitive analytical technologies and electronic instruments. A recent report from Hong Kong speaks of assay technique that can detect a "thousand" toxins of different nature in any given sample. It sounds like a magic when the innovators say that the fish embryo they are using for testing give tell-tell visible signs of presence of toxins pretty fast. No doubt this is a welcome development that deserves appreciation if what they claim is true. Here is a take on this new claims by the developers of the new test protocol.

"A Hong Kong-based startup called Vitargent sees hope in a food-testing technology centered around fish embryos, which would enable scientists to detect contaminants and poisons in everything from food and beverages to makeup and body lotion.The test that they've developed using the tiny fish can allegedly detect more than 1,000 different toxic substances, a giant leap from existing processes that only give results for five to ten toxins at a time. Vitargent is using engineered embryos of oryzias—also known as Japanese ricefish or medaka—which either develop tumors or turn fluorescent in the presence of certain dangerous chemicals and other additives. In the presence of bisphenol-A, for example—the dreaded BPA your water bottle promises not to contain—the fish will light up like a glowstick, thanks to a jellyfish gene that's been spliced into their genomes. The company's founder and executive director Eric Chentold the South China Morning Post that the fish have a similar DNA structure to humans, and react the same way to toxins. Chen sees a huge opportunity for this chemical-detection method in China, and his company hopes to institute its testing regimen throughout the region. "Businesses are so creative they will add anything you can imagine to our food and drink," he told the Post".

Though the claims are highly impressive, proof of the same has to come from independent assessors out side Hong Kong. Probably since it is a commercial venture very little technical information would be available but testing the fish for its ability to detect different toxins can be easily verified by independent trials. Of course since it is based on the use of live fish embryo, there is a need to maintain an aquarium to breed Japanese rice fish for getting the embryos for use in the test. What is not clear is the type of toxins which are detectable using this test though BPA has been mentioned as one of the toxins that can be detected. This new test might have far reaching impact if it can detect presence of different pesticides or chemical toxicants like acrylamide or other leachates from the various packaging materials used by the food industry.


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