Project also offers new method for estimating populations
CALGARY, April 4, 2012 /CNW/ - New research out of Alberta aims to improve food safety recalls and traceability systems, while also offering scientists a better method for tracking animals.
The research project, funded in part by Genome Alberta, focuses on using DNA to improve food safety and traceability systems around ground beef. Researchers extracted samples from ground beef batches, and then pulled DNA from individual muscle fibers found within the samples. Using a statistical method, researchers were then able to infer how many individual cattle made up each batch.
"The idea is that if there is a problem, that we could use this technology to narrow down the window where the contamination has occurred," says Dr. Graham Plastow, CEO of Livestock Gentec and part of the research team. Packers could determine which batches were contaminated using DNA testing, leading to more targeted product recalls.
The research could also eventually add value to traceability systems for consumers and livestock producers.
"Consumers are increasingly interested in finding out where their food is coming from. It is now theoretically possible to trace a steak that is in the store back to an individual farm or individual producer," says Gijs van Rooijen, Chief Scientific Officer for Genome Alberta.
Researchers who need to estimate animal populations in complex situations also have a new method for doing so, thanks to the work done in Alberta. Traditional methods greatly underestimated population numbers in settings where there was greater variation, such as those found in packing plants. The Alberta researchers were able to account for this variation in their DNA tracking method, leading to more accurate estimates.
"Basically what this research shows is that there is a whole new set of tools available now to the research community that has application to all kinds of industry, including the livestock industry. This type of result would not have been possible even a couple of years ago because the technology was not advanced enough," says Gijs van Rooijen, Chief Scientific Officer for Genome Alberta.
Plastow adds the project has just completed its first of three years, so more results are sure to come. The next steps include work on technical aspects and modeling how contamination spreads through a packing plant.
"Having really demonstrated the technical capability, and put together the statistical tool to do the calculations, we can now look at the practicality of what's possible," says Plastow.
Genome Alberta is a publicly funded organization that initiates, funds, and manages genomics research and partnerships. Genome Alberta is based in Calgary but leads projects around the province and participates in a variety of projects across the country. It is one of Canada's six Genome Centres and work closely with these centres to advance the science and application of genomics, metabolomics, and many other related 'omics'.
- The DNA traceability project is a three-year project involving researchers from the University of Alberta, IdentiGEN North America, and the University of Guelph.
- Genome Alberta and Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) have provided $317,388.75 in funding. The total budget for the project is $375,621.
- Traditional population estimates put the number of animals in one ground beef batch at about 300 to 500 cattle. The DNA identification method estimated a low of 411 cattle in one batch, while others contained over 1,000 individuals.
- A total of six batches were studied in the project. Scientists took 10 samples from each batch, and extracted DNA from 100 muscle fibers in each sample, meaning they analyzed 6,000 muscle fibers for the project.
- The project ties in to the Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy Implementation Plan by improving food safety recalls and traceability. These outcomes also have the potential to improve product branding and market access.
- Information on the DNA traceability project and other livestock genome research, is available on the Livestock News and Views blog at www.genomealberta.ca/livestock.
- A research paper on the DNA traceability project is available at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0034191
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Director of Corporate Communications
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Dr. Graham Plastow
CEO of Livestock Gentec