Feb 23

Monitoring mercury: measurements to make air cleaner

Air pollution across the EU accounts for more than 400,000 premature deaths and 6.5 million people falling ill each year. It causes significant damages to our natural environment, with almost two thirds of our ecosystems threatened by the effects of air pollution.

It is often the primary air pollutants – e.g. nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter – that are first brought to mind when considering air pollution. However, other air pollutants, such as the heavy metal mercury, are highly toxic and can cause severe damage to human health and the environment.

The UNEP Minamata Convention (signed in 2013) is a global treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury, providing, for example, control measures on its release into the environment. In order to understand the on-going effects of mercury on humans and the environment it is crucial to be able to accurately measure these levels to assess concentrations and trends.

laser ablation-1At LGC we have been working with other European measurement institutes as a partner in an EU-funded project (known as EMRP ‘MeTra’) to help provide the measurement infrastructure to support current EU legislation, ensure the quality and comparability of mercury measurement results and underpin advanced analytical techniques of the future. As there are currently no EU-approved methods for mercury in air, we have developed a high accuracy, direct analysis method using inorganic mass spectrometry combined with laser ablation (LA-ICP-MS) to support the current EU methods. This has been applied to real-world environmental samples (air filters) from rural and urban environments.

These results will feed into the UK and EU committees on air quality (BSI EH/2/3, CEN TC264) and will help to provide the evidence base for the next generation of standard methods for air quality assessment.


Following on from the success of this project, a subsequent project (Metrology for oxidised mercury) was funded by EMPIR in 2016 under the challenge ‘metrology for environment’ to further address this challenging issue. This project will start this summer (2017).


For more information on our work in this area please contact us.


For information on LGC’s Air PT scheme, please click here.


LGC, the UK National Measurement Laboratory and Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement

Feb 08

Is food allergen analysis flawed?

Food allergy is an increasing problem for those affected, their families or carers, the food industry and for regulators. The food supply chain is highly vulnerable to fraud involving food allergens, risking fatalities and severe reputational damage to the food industry.

A selection of nuts on a wooden spoonIt is understood that food allergy affects  up to 10% of children and 2-3% of adults – sometimes, tragically, with fatal outcomes – yet allergens remain challenging to analyse accurately, and are thus difficult to control.

Backroom lab difficulties seldom make headlines so it was exciting news when the Royal Society of Chemistry emailed to say our paper “Is food allergen analysis flawed? Health and supply chain risks and a proposed framework to address urgent analytical needs” was one of the top 25 most downloaded articles published in the Analyst in 2016. Our ‘grand vision’ in the paper, is

  • bioinformatics studies to pin down relevant markers or allergenic proteins within allergenic foods
  • development of reference methods for these allergens
  • appropriate reference materials which can ultimately support threshold decisions.

Thresholds are ‘limits’ that help decide if a food is safe or not safe for people with allergies (see section 6 of this excellent guide from the European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology) but a crucial aspect of control is the ability accurately to test for allergens in foods to manage and police thresholds.

Our recommendations in the paper are complex, with associated resource demand, but rarely has such an exciting interdisciplinary scientific endeavour arisen as a solution to a key socially relevant problem.

Interest in this issue is building. I also recently spoke at an international conference on this topic, delivering two talks on food fraud and allergy.


Submitted by Michael Walker.

Jan 31

10 million people will die of bacterial infections in 2050, and each year after that


Article by: Ed Siegwart 


Antibiotic awareness

European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) took place on 18 November, in the middle of World Antibiotic Awareness Week and reminded us of the shocking statistic that if no new antibiotics are successfully developed then 10 million people will die of bacterial infections in 2050, and each year after that – we still are facing this terrifying statistic if new antibiotics are not developed.


LGC supports the antimicrobial drug pipeline



Use of antibiotics

Antibiotics aren’t just for treating infections. They are given to cancer patients, HIV sufferers and other immunocompromised patients to prevent complications during their primary treatment. Antibiotics are also given to the majority of patients before surgery, to prevent them getting a potentially lethal infection; without them surgery has to be carried out under even more tightly controlled circumstances, and even then patients remain highly susceptible to post-operative infections. They are also given to expectant mothers before childbirth to prevent post-natal infections.

Antibiotics are a modern medical miracle, because they cure the diseases they treat. Tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, strep throat, chest infections, boils, acne, wound infections, stomach ulcers, diarrhea, tooth abscesses, pneumonia, scarlet fever, anthrax, plague, mastitis and styes, to name a few, are all curable thanks to these ‘magic bullets’.


Antibiotic resistance

However, antibiotics have stopped working. Bacteria have evolved ways of coping with antibiotics, and we are helping them. In the past, Doctors overprescribed antibiotics, or issued them when not required; the more we use them, the quicker resistance occurs. Patients do not always finish the full course of antibiotics they are given, actively selecting for, and encouraging the survival of resistant bugs. Significantly, despite clampdowns and better awareness of the problem in recent years, antibiotics are still being used as a growth promoter in animal farming, increasing resistant bug numbers, which then move into the environment and humans. These are just a few ways we are spoiling the pot.

The antibiotic industry has woken up to the danger, and is kicking into gear, but new drugs will not reach the market for 10-15 years. Even when a company bravely dips its toe into the market to produce a new drug, there is an incredible rate of attrition to make it through clinical trials, and drugs which start development rarely make it to market. The easy to make, easy to develop drugs have already been made, and the bugs are already resistant.


Progress with antimicrobials

We are still awaiting good news, although progress is being made behind the scenes. We still have a shortfall of new classes of antimicrobials to tackle the most resistant and most dangerous pathogens. The lowlight of the year was the announcement of the identification of mcr-1 in pigs in China, which has now been found globally. This gene confers resistance to the last line antimicrobial colistin, and with that, we are now living in a world where some infections are untreatable. This, added to the publication of a case study in the US of a woman who died after becoming infected with a strain of K. pneumoniae resistant to all 26 antibiotics which could possibly be used to treat it (I’m confident that this is only the tip of the iceberg), means the fabled post-antibiotic era has arrived.

Infections caused by the multidrug resistant strains of bacteria are still rare. However, they are sharply increasing and, as illustrated by mcr-1, spread rapidly.


What can we do to help with antibiotic resistance?


  1. When offered antibiotics, ask why they are being prescribed to you, and ask if you would get better without them. Often the answer is that ‘yes you will get better’, and they are only being offered ‘just in case’. In those circumstances, you might want to consider saying ‘no thank you’, to preserve these drugs for when we really need them, or more likely, for when your children need them.


  1. Make sure you are aware of the facts. LGC held the Great British Tea Party to raise money for Antibiotic Research UK, which raises awareness of the issues surrounding antibiotic resistance, and works to develop new treatments.


  1. Tell everyone! If we can continue to raise awareness among the general public, then the message will spread and we can better tackle the problem – because it is all of our problem.


Discovery and development of antimicrobials

LGC works to support the antimicrobial drug pipeline, from high throughput screening and drug development to clinical trial support and on into surveillance. Our experts work to guide compounds through the process, gathering data on MIC, time-kill, drug activity and other antimicrobial efficacy tests, to identify lead molecules and target organisms.


To find out more, please view our webinar on In Vitro Antimicrobial Efficacy Testing: Potential Pitfalls and Future Methods”, where Ed Siegwart, Senior Scientist at LGC, discusses current testing methods being carried out at LGC and the ‘Next Gen’ methods in development, which will be used in the detection of AMR.


View LGC webinar on In Vitro Antimicrobial Efficacy Testing: Potential Pitfalls and Future Methods


Article by: Ed Siegwart 

Jan 27

Securing UK borders: the measurements making you safer

The increasing threat posed by terrorism is one of the major challenges facing UK border security [2015 UK Government National Security Risk Assessment].

When you or your luggage is screened as you pass through an airport, it will typically be done using an ion mobility spectrometer (IMS). This is well-established technology: in 2004 alone there were over 10,000 explosive detectors based on IMS used at security checkpoints around the world. IMS has low detection limits, is small, robust and inexpensive and gives real-time results, enabling luggage and passengers to continue to move quickly through security.

case study_securing UK bordersHowever, to ensure current and future risks are identified as early as possible, further technologies are required to complement the current screening techniques. One such
potential option is transportable mass spectrometry. Recent advances – instrumentation is smaller, cheaper and more efficient and extensive laboratory sample preparation is no longer required – have overcome previous barriers to industry adoption. It has become appropriate to evaluate the measurement performance of these technologies to further improve the detection of explosives.

LGC scientists have investigated the measurement challenges associated with transportable mass spectrometry for use in the field for counter-terrorism activities. This knowledge has been shared with national security stakeholders to support the implementation of improved policy and procedures to ensure continued high accuracy screening.

The work done by LGC to improve measurement accuracy of current equipment and ensure appropriate adoption of novel technologies will improve the detection of explosives and chemical weapons at UK borders and will help safeguard the UK from further terrorist attacks. This will protect lives, property and infrastructure, and avoid disruption to businesses and travel, while also improving confidence in public safety.


Read out latest case study to find out more.


LGC, the UK National Measurement Laboratory and Designated Institute for chemical and bio-measurement

Jan 18

Helping to feed the world with Genotyping by Sequencing

Many areas critical to improved agricultural production require robust and scalable genotyping platforms to enable the mapping of traits in plants and livestock as part of marker assisted selection (MAS) and marker assisted breeding (MAB) programmes.

Pile of Red Tomato.

Such programmes have helped improved drought, frost and parasite resistance in plants and improved yields.

Historically, these projects have involved the sequencing of parental genotypes using whole genome shotgun (WGS) sequencing. However, this can prove prohibitively expensive and resource intensive due to the complexity of sequencing de novo genomes.

In contrast, genotyping by sequencing (GBS) is a unique and cost-efficient technique developed and patented by Keygene, which reduces the genome complexity to certain regions which can be sequenced for a large number of samples.

According to Wolfgang Zimmermann, Sequencing Business Manager, Genomics, LGC – the scale of the efficiency increase is hard to comprehend; GBS delivers a large number of the useful SNPs in all samples of an analysed batch at just 1% of the cost – significantly opening up new applications and species.

Having secured a license for the commercial offering and use of GBS technology across all species and geographies, our sequencing experts have been working hard to further optimise the technique. This has led to the development of a self-tuning variant of the GBS technique (normalised GBS, or nGBS) that enhances the efficiency of the process and ensures selected loci are reliably sequenced across large sample batches using next-generation sequencing (NGS).

nGBS makes use of a normalisation process developed by LGC to exclude sequences for conserved repeats that code for organelle such as chloroplasts and mitochondria. This normalisation process is applicable to any genome regardless of size, methylation pattern, and type as well as abundance of repetitive elements.

This enables deeper sequencing of the remaining DNA and increases the number of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) identified from around 15,000 to up to 50,000.

Following a bioinformatics analysis, these SNPs can then be used to develop genotyping arrays or PCR- and KASP- based panels for downstream applications.

Zimmermann was keen to stress that if high quality DNA can be extracted then the technique can be used for nearly any species. Fortunately, LGC’s DNA extraction group have made a name for themselves extracting purified high molecular weight DNA from even the toughest of samples.


To learn more about LGC’s GBS services, and to downlown our latest application note visit here.

Jan 13

Toy Safety: proficiency testing to ASTM F963-16

On 20 October, 2016 ASTM International published ASTM F963-16 Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, an updated version of ASTM F963-11. The aim of this revision is to address various issues relating to toy safety, ideally highlighting and eliminating many potential hazards from toys intended for use by children under the age of 14.

baby toys collection isolated on white

A significant number of updates have been introduced to strengthen this standard, through the design, manufacturing and marketing of children’s toys, as well as addressing possible hazards that that may not be immediately apparent to consumers.






The following proficiency testing (PT) samples allow you to monitor your analysis against the 2016 version of ASTM F963 and EN71 equivalent where applicable:


Area updates ASTM Clause EN71 equivalent PT Sample Available in round(s)
Projectile toys 4.21 and 8.14 4.17 12 TY069 & TY071
Battery operated toys 4.25 15 TY070
Heavy elements 4.3.5 3 All rounds
Magnets 4.38 and 8.25 4.23 14 TY070
Sound producing toys 4.5 4.20 13 TY070 & TY072

For more information on our toy testing PT scheme please see Scheme Documentation.

To participate in any of the rounds please complete the Application Form and email it to ptcustomerservices@lgcgroup.com.

To order a copy of the standard ASTM F963-16, please visit the ASTM website.

By Wayne Gaunt, Technical Manager, Proficiency Testing
LGC Standards

Source:  ASTM F963-16, Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety, ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2016, www.astm.org.

Jan 11

SSR conversion service: a convenient upgrade for 21st century challenges of how to feed the world

LGC’s recent launch of a full SSR conversion service allows convenient identification of potential SNP markers around microsatellites/SSR’s and converts them to KASP SNP genotyping assays. The SNP conversion will be carried out by the genomics team in Berlin who have recently topped their DNA sequencing services for the seventh time in nine years.

snpidentification_shadowSSRs are commonly used by researchers and plant breeders to introgress superior traits in terms of higher yields and productivity, better insect and disease resistance and improved nutrition.

Joris Parmentier, Product Marketing Manager, LGC, states, “LGC is committed to using our science for a safer world. In line with this our genomics expertise is being used as part of global breeding programmes with the aim of increasing global food production by 30% by 2050.

“Our science and technology identifies converts and screens the SNP sequences for  these desirable traits. We do this at an industrial scale, quicker, better and more cost-effectively for our customers. Our SSR conversion service is a convenient way to convert outdated SSR markers to new high throughput SNP genotyping and benefit from the advantages of SNP marker assisted selection.

“We can help our customers screen more samples, which in turn means confirmation of key markers more quickly, getting the crop with the improved trait to the market faster and resulting in a competitive advantage for our customers.

“Through collaborations with for example the African Orphan Crop Consortium (AOCC) LGC has been involved in bringing new tools and advancements in analysis techniques to developing countries. SSRs are extensively used – particularly in crops such as cocoa, sugar cane and coffee that are important sources of income in these countries. Our SSR conversion service ensures that the advantages of SNPs are made available globally to help those contributing to efforts to feed the world.”

For more on LGC’s SSR service click here.

Dec 12

Foreign particulate matter in pharmaceuticals

There has been a recent rise in the number of pharmaceutical product recalls due to the presence of Foreign Particulate Matter (FPM), and its effect on product efficacy and safety.

FPM is either inherent (from the product itself), intrinsic (from the production process), or extrinsic (contaminating particles from outside). There is a regulatory requirement for manufacturers to thoroughly investigate any incidents involving FPM and to determine its origin. In doing so the manufacturer needs to be able to demonstrate that they have a thorough understanding of their manufacturing process and control of the composition of their final product. Detection and analysis of FPM is a critical part of product development and quality control, and today forms a routine part of most upstream processing.




LGC has a proven track record in FPM analysis having carried out numerous FPM investigations involving active pharmaceutical ingredients, excipients, final dosage forms, process and packaging materials. Our services cover particle counting and morphology categorisation, identification of unknowns, root-cause determination and the development of bespoke FPM methodologies and reference libraries.

This rapid turnaround service allows our customers to complete their investigations in a timely and efficient manner. All investigations need to be fit for purpose and our study managers are able to call upon a wide range of FPM characterisation techniques including light microscopy, infrared (FT-IR and NIR) microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM-EDX), x-ray diffraction and mass spectrometry. In addition to commercially available libraries we have assembled extensive component, product and contamination reference libraries.

To find out more about our expertise, please view our webinar on demand and download our fact sheet.


View webinar >>> 



Download fact sheet >>>




Dec 07

Total Polar Compounds in frying oil

TRIAL SAMPLE: 796 (February 2017)

Oils and fats represent one of the three major classes of food constituents together with carbohydrates and proteins. Deep-fat frying is one of the most popular cooking procedures and leads to the production of both desirable and undesirable compounds. The cooking process affects the physicochemical characteristics and quality of the frying medium and the fried product itself.

French fries

The quality of oils and fats during the frying process has a major influence on the quality of the final product. Thermal processing of frying oils leads to oxidative and hydrolytic reactions i.e. hydrolysis and polymerisation and these chemical and physical changes lead to the formation of many volatile and non-volatile decomposition products. The majority of the non-volatile compounds formed during frying are, for convenience, classified as “Total Polar compounds” (TPC) and the formation of such compounds during repeated frying has been shown to increase with the degree of oil unsaturation.

The determination of the percentage of Total polar compounds (% TPC) is one of the most reliable methods for monitoring the quality changes in oils during the frying process and it reflects the degradation of the oil after repeated use. In order to protect consumers, several countries and International bodies have issued recommendations or a regulation which set maximum limits for the percentage of TPC, and regulates the use of oils & fats subjected to frying. Countries that control the quality of frying oil include:


1 France Legislation 25
2 Germany Recommendations by the German Society for Fat Science (DGF) 24
3 Italy Legislation 25
4 Poland Legislation 25
5 Spain Legislation 25
6 Brazil Recommendation 25
7 South Africa Regulation 25


The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) released a statement dated 23rd September 2016, which addresses the issue of or repeated use of edible oils in cooking and frying of food by amending current standards (Food Products Standards and Food additives-FSS) to set a maximum limit for % TPC.

In light of the increasing concern, LGC Standards has included a new sample, total polar compounds in frying oil to the food chemistry proficiency testing scheme (QFCS). Palm oil was chosen as a material for this proficiency testing (PT) trial sample.  It is extensively used in commercial frying, fat spreads and generally in the food industry as it is the cheapest of all major edible oils and it is produced in the greatest quantity worldwide.  The fatty acid composition of palm oil is 50% saturated and 50 % unsaturated fat, it is relatively stable to oxidation and is naturally semi solid in room temperature, so does not require hydrogenation to become solid. You can find more details in Scheme Documentation.

By Savvas Xystouris, Technical/Development Manager, Proficiency Testing, LGC Standards

For more from LGC Standards, please click here.

Nov 17

New strict codes of practice for mitigating acrylamide formation

In September 2016, the E.U. Commission presented an amended regulation proposal for acrylamide, based on feedback from the stakeholders’ consultation. The Regulation is proposed to be made under Article 4 of Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 on the hygiene of foodstuffs, and it sets out a requirement for food business operators to take account of strict new codes of practice for reducing acrylamide formation, as part of their food safety management systems.

The E.U. Commission has recommended that member states should continue the collection of acrylamide monitoring data and as with previous surveys, send the data to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).  Given the increased spotlight on acrylamide in both the EU and globally, it is certain that regulatory authorities will continue to monitor acrylamide levels in food, to determine whether further action/regulation is needed.

Many types of savoury snack in white dishes

Acrylamide is a process contaminant, formed in numerous baked or fried carbohydrate-rich foods as a result of high temperature cooking at >120 °C (248 °F). It is formed from reducing sugars and the amino acid asparagine (a building block of proteins) as part of the Malliard reaction.

The vast majority of evidence from animal studies suggests that acrylamide and its metabolite glycidamide are genotoxic and carcinogenic i.e. they have the potential to damage DNA and cause cancer.  However, the majority of human studies have not yet shown direct correlation with cancer therefore it is classified as a possible carcinogen in Group 2A by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The intake of large amounts of acrylamide may also cause neurotoxic and hormonal disorders. Based on the results of monitoring in the Member States from 2007–2011, the EU Commission has set ‘indicative values’ for acrylamide in various food products. The most recent indicative values are laid down in Commission Recommendation (EC) No. 647/2013. In June 2015, EFSA published its first full risk assessment of acrylamide in food. The report reconfirmed previous evaluations, that acrylamide in food can potentially increase the risk of developing cancer for consumers in all age groups.

WHO/JEFCA: In 2010, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that acrylamide is a human health concern, suggested additional long-term studies and advised that exposure to acrylamide in food should be as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP).

CODEX: The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) has developed a Code of Practice for the reduction of acrylamide in food to disseminate best practice to manufacturers.

USA: In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance to help the food industry reduce the amount of acrylamide in certain foods, but these are recommendations, not regulations.

CHINA: The China National Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment (CFSA), published a paper for the Dietary exposure of the Chinese population to acrylamide, confirming it is a potential health concern for consumers, and recommending efforts should be made to reduce acrylamide in Chinese food. The EFSA & CFSA are due to sign an agreement on food safety in November 2016 during the China International Food Safety & Quality Conference/Expo jointly organised by the EFSA and EU Commission.

In light of the increasing concern, and the potential for higher demand for acylamide analysis, LGC Standards have included a new sample, for the analysis of acrylamide in snacks, to the food chemistry proficiency testing scheme (QFCS). Find out more in our scheme documentation.

EFSA Panel on contaminants in the food chain (CONTAM), ‘Scientific Opinion on acrylamide in food’, EFSA Journal, 13(6):4104, 2015. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2015.4104/epdf, (accessed 17 October 2016)

EFSA, Acrylamide in food is a public health concern, 2015 https://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/press/news/150604, (accessed 20 October 2016)

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), ‘EPIC Study: The Acrylamide Working group’, http://epic.iarc.fr/research/acrylamide.php  (accessed 17 October 2016)
Zhou Ping Ping et al., ‘Dietary exposure of the Chinese population to Acrylamide’, Biomed Environ Sci, Vol. 26 (6), 2013, pp.421-429. Available from cfsa.net.cn, (accessed 20 October 2016)

By Savvas Xystouris, Technical/Development Manager, Proficiency Testing.

For more from LGC Standards, please click here.

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