DNA authentication program raises the bar for quality and traceability

With a unique herbarium, a new “DNA Tested” seal, and exclusive access to “breakthrough” handheld genomic technology for botanical ID testing, Indena is “giving a pragmatic solution to the industry”, says the company’s marketing director.



DNA analysis offers a lot of potential for botanical testing, and is incredibly reliable,​ but only when performed on appropriate material: A DNA test cannot be universally applied to botanical extracts because DNA must still be present after the manufacturing steps, which is not always the case. The technology dominated trade media headlines in 2015 and early 2016 after NY AG Eric Schneiderman used it to build cases against a number of retailers of herbal supplements.​
“We were applying this technology to potentially problematic species years before Schneiderman came along,” ​Cosimo Palumbo, Indena’s Marketing Director, told NutraIngredients-USA.
Indeed, the company, working with Dr Pietro Piffanelli from the Parco Tecnologico Padano (PTP) in Lodi, northern Italy, presented a poster at the International Symposium of AOAC Europe Section in Nuremberg in 2011 which applied DNA fingerprint analysis to eight species of Echinacea found in North America*.
Reference standards​


One of the criticisms of DNA technology in the past has been around the reference standards – or lack thereof.
While some may point to GenBank​ – the NIH’s database that collects all publicly available genetic sequences – as a reference library, many experts note that it is not an acceptable standard (for example, samples may be misidentified or data may be missing).
Dr Piffanelli told attendees at the recent Vitafoods education sessions in Geneva that Genbank contains potential mistakes in the attribution of DNA sequences to specific plant species. “DNA barcoding is robust and reproducible, and it makes a decisive contribution to the certification of the origin of raw materials and finished products [if DNA is still present after manufacturing],”​ said Dr Piffanelli. “But it is of paramount importance to have certified pure samples to derive the reference DNA sequences.”​
“Herbarium vouchers are ideal and with 95 years of experience we have a unique herbarium,”​ noted Indena’s Palumbo.
Next Gen Sequencing​


There are different types of DNA testing methods: One technique is called Sanger Sequencing, but a paper published in PLOS One​​ by scientists from the University of Guelph concluded: “Sanger sequencing should not be used for testing herbal supplements, due to its inability to resolve mixed signal from samples containing multiple species. NGS-based approaches are far more superior, enabling reliable and effective detection of DNA in complex mixtures.”​
Plants and DNA


Plants have three genomes: Chloroplast DNA and mitochondrion DNA, which are inherited from one parent, usually the female; and nuclear DNA, which is inherited from both parents.
Indena’s DNA-based technologies play an important role in quality control procedures in the dietary supplement industry when embedded in a complete testing toolbox that provides a reliable authentication platform of herbal products, explained Palumbo.
“NGS technologies are based upon high-throughput decoding of all DNA present in a given extract,” ​he said. “NGS technologies handle millions of small fragments of DNA on the basis of an untargeted approach that generates valuable data to assess the presence of adulterants and assign all product’s ingredients at the species level. Indena is working to validate proper DNA-based technologies to include these tests also on the final extracts.​