Each year, unsafe food causes 600 million cases of foodborne diseases and 4,20,000 deaths worldwide. WHO estimated that about 33 million years of healthy lives are lost due to eating unsafe food globally each year, and this number is likely an underestimation. But we can see a ray of hope in the field of traceability of food- DNATrax.
Foodborne illness is an infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Food or beverages that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, or chemicals are the most common causes. Common symptoms for these include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and chills.
Potential Outbreak of Foodborne Illnesses
Already, when a pandemic has brought the entire world to a halt, people are dreading contaminated foods. The world is not in a position to deal with another outbreak of pathogens such as E. coli or Salmonella in tainted food products.
Grocery shelves are constantly stuffed with new products. Mislabelled foods are also a serious problem. But there are no ways to check the credibility of the product. There are products selling under false labels, to adulterated products and fake products. In fact, such label swapping and adulteration does not happen where the product is produced. Rather, it takes place somewhere in the line.
But now, food producers might be able to spray unique DNA barcodes directly on the food itself. This will improve its traceability to a great extent. These barcodes can trace food throughout the whole supply chain.
Origin of DNATrax
Lawrence Livermore national laboratory (LLNL) researchers, in collaboration with DNATrek, have developed a cost-effective and highly efficient method. This will accurately trace the contaminated food back to its source.
Barcodes on Food, and Not on Food-Packaging
A simple swab of the surface and an off-shelf instrument will decode the traceability information.
The DNA barcodes comprise of around 100 DNA bases of synthetically produced nucleic acids. Genes unique to deep-sea organisms are copied to synthesize these nucleic acids.
DNATrax is a quick and efficient way to stop these products from sickening more people due to poor traceability of food.
What is DNATrax and how does it work?
DNATrax was originally developed for ensuring biosecurity. It could safely track indoor and outdoor airflow patterns. However, it was thought to be better suited for traceability in the food industry. Present technology takes weeks to identify the origin of tainted food. Plus, the technology is not very effective in tracing food produce. DNATrax can provide this information within minutes. It can identify fraudulent foods along with how many adulterants have been added, how much, and where they came from.
DNAtrax was originally designed for bio-defense work. It was created as a way to stimulate germ warfare attacks on indoor and outdoor targets. The conventional method was to spray harmless bacteria in the air and later collect samples from various places. The samples were then incubated to see how the bacteria spread. Using DNATrax, bacteria are replaced with particles of non-biological DNA. This can be collected with simple forensic swabs and further subjected to DNA analysis.
DNATrax-Traceability in just a Few Minutes
DNATrax is surprisingly simple. An odorless, tasteless substance is classified as a harmless food-additive by U.S. food and Drug Administration. It is made of strands of non-living and non-viable DNA encased in sugars similar to common icing sugar. These strands, like all DNA, can record information and have 1060 variations, and thus can contain a lot of data. According to LLNL, they act like “an invisible barcode”.
Applying DNATrax is simply a matter of spraying it on fruits, vegetables, and meats or mixing it with bulk commodities like honey, olive oil, flour, rice, and so on. The idea is to use DNA to record a code sequence with data like what the product is, where it came from when was it harvested, and so on. Further, simple polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology can identify and reveal the origin of the product in about an hour, right from where a particular product hail from.
A tainted apple can be traced back to its orchards using DNATrax. It determines when was it picked, who picked it, and potentially the tree it came from. In the case of olive oil, the technology can be added to olives as they are pressed into oil. If the fraudulent bottle is pulled off a store’s shelf, quantitative analysis can determine how much has been diluted.
DNATrax can also be used to assist in training to determine if personal protective equipment (PPE) used by emergency responders and healthcare workers have been breached. The DNA particles can be applied to the PPE exteriors. And if the contaminants appear on the person’s skin, indicate that a breach has occurred.
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