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DNA Barcoding can ID Natural Health Products

Friday, 21 September 2012 02:39 PM

The makers of questionable health products that falsely claim they are “all natural” can be difficult to identify, which makes marketing pitches difficult to police and verify. But Canadian scientists have developed a new DNA barcoding technique that accurately authenticates natural health products.
The barcoding, developed by University of Guelph researchers, has been proven to be up to 88 percent effective in identifying health products made from plants and animals and could become widely used to verify product claims.
The development, reported in the journal Food Research International, could strengthen health regulators’ efforts to ferret out unscrupulous or accidental product mislabeling with significant economic, health, legal, and environmental implications, said lead researcher Mehrdad Hajibabaei.
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"Currently there is no other broadly applicable tool that can identify the species used in both animal and plant natural health products as rapidly and cost effectively," said Hajibabaei, an integrative biology professor and director of technology development for the Guelph-based Biodiversity Institute of Ontario.
Up to about 80 percent of people in developed countries use natural health products, including vitamins, minerals, and herbal remedies. But regulators face a backlog of license applications, and thousands of products on the market have not been fully evaluated. In the U.S., regulatory problems involving natural health products have affected consistency and safety, Hajibabaei said.
DNA barcoding allows scientists to track genetic material to identify species, said Hajibabaei. It works even for fragments of organisms, allowing scientists to ID dried contents of a small pill.
To determine the technique’s accuracy, researchers tested 95 plant and animal products bought in Toronto and New York City. Samples included capsules, tablets, roots, extracts, teas, and shredded products. The researchers also sampled for products containing widely used shark tissue or ginseng.
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About 81 per cent of natural health products made from animals correctly matched their labels. The rest contained cheaper alternatives and even fragments of protected species. One product labeled as “tiger shark fins” actually contained a catfish species.
Half of the products labeled as Korean ginseng – which is more expensive and used for different medicinal benefits than other types – were really American ginseng.
"Ultimately, the study showcases the utility of DNA barcodes for use in the real world," Hajibabaei said. "DNA barcoding provides a simple and efficient method for accurate identification and can play a key role in developing a more robust protocol for their regulation."
This research was funded by the federal government through Genome Canada and the Ontario Genomics Institute.

© HealthDay

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Scientists have developed a new DNA barcoding technique that authenticates natural health products.
Friday, 21 September 2012 02:39 PM
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