Mar 04

Peanut allergen quantification: a tough nut to crack

Image of Peanut QC case studyThe prevalence of peanut allergy has nearly doubled in Europe over the past two decades and it now affects around 500,000 people in the UK. Peanut allergy is the most common cause of fatal food allergy reaction. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies peanut proteins as something harmful. The fear of accidental exposure in food reduces the quality of life of peanut allergy sufferers and severely limits the social habits of allergic individuals, their families and even their friends.

It is not only those with peanut allergies who have to worry about the risk of allergic reactions or death by anaphylaxis; it also creates problems for businesses. Testing for allergen proteins in food is difficult, as samples usually contain a lot of protein and it can be difficult to separate the allergen protein of interest. This has an impact on the ability of manufacturers and suppliers to adequately label their goods and also has implications for defining threshold levels and detecting food fraud.

LGC scientists have developed a unique allergen quality control material that is the first to be linked to clinical studies aimed at identifying threshold concentrations that elicit allergic responses. The QC material is a ‘real’ complex food matrix that can be used to help protect those with a peanut allergy. By contributing to the validation of allergen measurement methods, the materials will also help to prevent contamination in the food production process potentially saving the food industry millions of pounds.

Read our case study to find out more and discover the impact that this work can have.

Feb 13

Valentine’s Day: its all about chemistry

LGC products and services are used in all aspects of people’s day to day lives, even on Valentine’s Day. Whatever you’re doing this Valentine’s Day, there’s a good chance one of our offerings is helping to make your evening magical, without you even realising.

Romantic dinner for two:

Whether you’re indulging yourself at a top restaurant or having a romantic home-cooked meal, the food on your plate will have gone through various tests before you consume it. LGC measures the levels of pesticides present on the fresh fruit and vegetables you eat. We also have facilities that check for food authenticity
so you can be sure of what you’re eating.bar

Open a bottle:

You’re probably enjoying a bottle of wine with your romantic meal. LGC carried out a wine genotyping project to determine how different species of yeast can give different qualities to wine. If you’re teetotal, you may be washing your food down with some water. We provide services to check the purity of the water you drink.

Gifts:

Whether you’re giving, receiving or simply wearing, jewellery is a Valentine’s Day essential. LGC tests jewellery for the release of nickel.

Sitting in front of the TV:

Valentine’s Day not your thing? Or maybe its just better for your wallet to have a quiet night in, in front of the TV. LGC provides Florisil, which is used for the production of LCD screens.

Feb 04

Cancer research is #NotBeyondUs

This World Cancer Day (4 February 2015) we share how our scientists are taking part in the fight against cancer, searching for solutions for better treatment and diagnosis.

World Cancer Day 2015The campaign for World Cancer Day 2015 takes a positive and proactive approach to the fight against cancer, highlighting that solutions do exist, and that they are ‘not beyond us’.

New research announced today reveals that one in two people in the UK will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. So it is little wonder that cancer is the number one fear for the British public, feared ahead of debt, knife crime, Alzheimer’s disease or losing your job.

The cost of cancer is high. A diagnosis throws whole families into turmoil, as they battle to come to terms with a diagnosis, often juggling multiple hospital appointments and managing the treatments that ensue.

Annual NHS costs for cancer services are £5 billion, but the cost to society as a whole – including costs for loss of productivity – is £18.3 billion. More people are surviving cancer, but our survival rates are still worse than those for other countries that are as wealthy as us.[i]

In our role as the UK designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement, we solve measurement challenges which include researching new methods for diagnosing cancers and improved therapeutic drug monitoring.

Our scientists are experts in their fields and, with access to state-of-the-art technology, they are often approached to work with leading clinicians on the latest cancer research projects. They are due to start a project in April to standardise measurements used to diagnose pheochromocytoma – a rare type of cancer. Special precautionary measures are required when operating to remove these pheochromocytoma tumours, as manipulation of the tumour could trigger huge adrenal releases causing a heart attack. Correct diagnosis is crucial to ensure these risks are managed during surgery. If undetected prior to surgery, the consequences can be fatal, with survival rates around 50%.

Many patients require screening via metanephrine markers to ensure the correct diagnosis. This is usually through urine samples, collected over 24 hours, which are tested for metanephrine markers, however this process is time consuming, laborious, and in some cases not sufficiently sensitive to detect all instances of pheochromocytoma. Newer, more sensitive approaches are starting to be used which test for the metanephrine markers in plasma, but these are also problematic due to the high occurrence of false positives, which results in unnecessary follow-on diagnostics using, for example, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and causing needless patient distress and additional financial burden on the NHS.

LGC is carrying out a three year study to improve measurements in this area by developing metanephrine certified reference materials (CRMs) and quality control (QC) materials that can be used to increase accuracy and traceability during clinical diagnosis. The international pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma research support organization (PRESSOR) has identified standardisation of biochemical tests as a critical requirement to improving diagnosis.

Work is due to begin on this project in April 2015 and is just one of the projects that LGC undertakes as the UK designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement to support the health sector.

[i] https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/helping-more-people-survive-cancer

Jan 20

Is mercury making us as mad as a hatter?

“Have I gone mad?” The Hatter asks Alice. “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret, all the best people are.” replies Alice.

Measurement for environmental protectionPublished in 1865, the enchanting story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland features weird and wonderful characters in a world that becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser’. The Hatter is an oft cited favourite among children and adults, with his nonsensical talk and seemingly ridiculous riddles. But was the Hatter in Lewis Carol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland ‘bonkers’ or was he ill – poisoned by his craft?

This is a question that many have pondered, debating whether the character’s eccentricity was due to mercury poisoning. In the 1800s, many milliners suffered mercury poisoning after inhaling vapours when using mercury nitrate to treat the fur of small animals used in the manufacture of felt hats. Prolonged exposure to mercury vapours caused neurotoxic effects including trembling (known as “hatters’ shakes”), loss of coordination, slurred speech, loosening of teeth, memory loss, depression, irritability and anxiety.

Mercury in the home

The use of mercury in the milliner trade has long since ceased, however mercury still poses a global health concern in the 21st Century prompting a tightening of legislation and requiring the efforts of the measurement community – and LGC scientists – to halt rising mercury levels.

Despite its toxicity, mercury appears in our homes and workplaces – found in fluorescent tube lighting, energy saving light bulbs and button cell batteries – and when these products are discarded, mercury pollution can occur.

While there are alternatives to mercury button cell batteries on the market (lithium, silver oxide, alkaline and zinc-air), mercury button cell batteries tend to be cheaper. They are often used in watches, hearing aids, calculators, video game memory cards, camcorders and other electrical devices and, if not disposed of correctly, can end up in landfill where the mercury can leech into soil and water supplies. This, combined with the release of mercury from mining, metal and cement production and the burning of fossil fuels, is having a devastating effect on our environment and, ultimately, could have an adverse impact on our health.

Environmental impact

Aquatic organisms and vegetation in rivers, lakes, and bays convert the less toxic inorganic mercury into toxic, organic methylmercury. When fish eat contaminated vegetation the mercury becomes biomagnified in the fish. The levels of mercury in the shallow ocean layers has tripled since the industrial revolution, according to research published in the journal Nature, which poses a danger to humans as the levels of mercury that we consume by eating fish is also elevated. Current advice from the Food Standards Agency states that pregnant women and women who intend to become pregnant should avoid shark, marlin and swordfish and they may also need to limit the amount of tuna they eat due to the possible risks to the developing nervous system of the unborn child.

In a bid to halt the trend of rising mercury levels, more than 90 countries signed a treaty to limit mercury use and pollution at a United Nations conference in Kumamoto, Japan in 2013. The Minamata Convention on Mercury aims to curb emissions of the metal from power plants and other industrial facilities, and to limit its use in products from batteries and light bulbs and medical equipment.

But for nations to effectively cut mercury emissions, they need to be able to monitor levels of the metal in the environment. A three-year European-funded project involving LGC scientists has been launched to develop the capability of measuring mercury in environmental samples, including biota and air particulates.

LGC scientists work to solve metrological challenges

LGC’s role is to solve outstanding metrological challenges associated with isotope ratio measurements of mercury and mercury species.

Mercury isotopic data can be used to understand mercury amount distribution and environment cycling. This is the way mercury moves through and is re-used or re-absorbed in the environment – not just in terms of geographical location but also what chemical form it’s on (organic or inorganic), which organism it’s in or where else in the environment it is, i.e. river, soil, air.

LGC scientists aim to solve metrological challenges to ensure that sample preparation, introduction and instrumental parameters don’t cause mass discrimination. Special attention will be paid to the evaluation of the potential occurrence of mass-independent effects during sample storage, preparation and analysis.

It will also investigate the feasibility of novel sampling techniques, such as laser ablation, in combination with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to rapidly monitor mercury distribution in environmental particulates collected in filters.

If successful, the project will establish the metrological infrastructure for mercury measurements in environmental samples, needed for current and future legislation aimed at controlling mercury emissions and releases. This is just one of the many projects that LGC undertakes in its role as the UK’s National Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurement delivering science for a safer world.

 

Jan 16

LGC attends PAG

This week in San Diego, PAGXXII brought together over 2,800 leading genetic scientists and researchers in plant and animal research, and over 130 exhibits, 150 workshops, over 1000 posters and 1800 abstracts.

Digital illustration of a dnaLGC attended PAG to participate in symposia where we discussed partnering to deliver key genomic solutions for breeding and development. We also ran workshops on DNA extraction, assay design, and genotyping; and presented posters on veterinary pathogen detection and meat speciation using qKASP and the development and implementation of a simple KASP genotyping test for indentifying Tay-Sachs Disease.

Marcus Willis, Commercial Director for LGC’s genomics division said, “As the largest Ag-Genomics meeting in the world, PAG is obviously a key event for us. It is great to showcase our diverse range of genomics solutions and how were are enabling our customers to improve their crops and livestock more quickly and cost-effectively than ever before.

For more information on our genomics products and services visit our website.

Dec 23

Early success for the African Orphan Crops Consortium

The African Orphan Crops Consortium (AOCC) is an international effort to improve the nutrition, productivity and climatic adaptability of some of Africa’s most important food crops, helping to decrease the malnutrition and stunting rife among the continent’s rural children. It includes the African Union – New Partnership for Africa’s Development; LGC; Mars; Google; ICRAF; BGI; Life Technologies; World Wildlife Fund; University of California, Davis; University of Ghent; iPlant Collaborative; and the International Livestock Research Institute. It will train 250 plant breeders and technicians over the next five years.

The goal is to sequence, assemble and annotate the genomes of 100 traditional African food crops. These “Orphan Crops” are species that have been neglected by researchers and industry because they are not economically important on the global market.

On 11 December, the African Plant Breeding Academy (AfPBA), which is part of the AOCC, graduated their first cohort of plant breeders. After six weeks of training at ICRAF, which also hosts the AOCC Laboratory, the scientists from 11 countries and 19 institutions returned home to work on neglected crops that are central to their peoples’ nutrition and culture.iStock_000000266156_L2 wheat

A huge range of orphan crops in Africa are being explored. Genomes for 8 out of 101 species of African Orphan Crops, including Baobab, are already being sequenced by the Beijing Genomics Institute. Just 20g of Baobab pulp provides twice the amount of calcium as spinach, three times the vitamin C of oranges and four times more potassium than bananas. Increasing production of Baobab would significantly improve the nutritional content for many people.

Dr Wonder Nunekpeka from Ghana’s Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute is working on Hibiscus sabdariffa, which produces iron rich leaves when other vegetables are in scarcity. This is significant as 40% of under-fives in Sub-Saharan Africa are stunted, whilst over 15 million children have lost one or both parents, many because their mothers were anemic in childbirth. Hibiscus sabdariffa is an orphan because it is low yielding, but knowing where traits lie on the genome will enable scientists to breed out factors that impede productivity. Scientists hope to accelerate conventional breeding methods with knowledge of genomes.

All genomics data from the AOCC will be made public with the endorsement of the African Union through a process managed by the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture. The internet giant Google is assisting with the data pipeline. Some crops have genomes many times larger than the human genome. The cocoa genome once resided on 18 external hard drives.

Through understanding the genomes of traditional African food crops, scientists hope to enable higher nutritional content for society over the decades to come. The aim is not to create GMO crops, but to guarantee that existing crops are able to breed rapidly and successfully to ensure food security.

 

Dec 15

Keeping nitrofuran residues out of EU food

Nitrofuran antibiotics were first synthesised in the 1950’s for human use, with veterinary uses soon after. In the 1980’s concerns were raised about the carcinogenicity of nitrofurans and their metabolites. Nitrofurans are now prohibited for use in food-producing animals in most parts of the world but are still widely manufactured and authorised for other purposes.  Food imported into Europe also must comply with EU regulations and residues of nitrofurans is a food trade issue, as these compounds are readily available to producers in many countries who export food to the EU.[1]

The Government Chemist carried out several referee analyses for nitrofuran veterinary residues in shellfish and other crustaceans which led to recommendations for analysis and reporting.

  • Testing the inner core of animal meat in crustaceans, as semicarbazide (a nitrofuran metabolite) may occur naturally in the shell of crab, langoustines and shrimps
  • For products in ice, the sample is thawed and the water drained away
  • Subtracting the measurement uncertainty from the mean result to yield a ‘not less than figure’ used for reporting ‘beyond reasonable doubt’

prawn_spices_food_iStock_000000331447MediumA peer reviewed paper on nitrofuran veterinary residues in food explained that Nifursol, one of the most common nitrofurans previously used by the poultry industry, and specifically added to a prescribed list in 2002, is not widely included in laboratory test suites. This is despite a marker metabolite being identified, and it having been shown that it can be added to the standard FoodBRAND method. This may be because laboratories have been unwilling to repeat the investment needed to in-house validate the method of the required standard, and the metabolite reference standard is less readily available, or simply because there has not been a push from regulators. The paper recommended that laboratories add DNSH to their nitrofuran metabolite test suite, particularly for turkey and chicken samples. [2]

LGC offers a complete range of reference standards for the analysis of nitrofuran metabolites in food.  The Nifursol hydrolysed metabolite 3,5-dinitrosalicylic hydrazine (DNSH) and the nitrophenyl derivative 2_NP-DNSH will be available in 2015.

To find out more about our reference standards visit our webshop or contact a local office.

 

[1] John Points, D.Thorburn Burns, Michael J. Walker, Forensic issues in the analysis of trace nitrofuran veterinary residues in food of animal origin, Food Control, Vol 50 (2014)

[2] Points, (2014)

Dec 11

Drink driving: measuring the effects of ‘one for the road’

wine_breathalyser_alcohol_drink_web.jpg50 years ago, the first public information announcement was broadcast into the nation’s homes warning drivers “if he’s been drinking, don’t let him drive – don’t ask a man to drink and drive”. The seasonal drink drive campaign would go on to become a staple of Christmas, appearing each November to warn drivers of the perils of getting behind the wheel of their car after a festive tipple.

Against a montage of black and white images from office parties, the voice-over in the first ever drink-drive campaign video announced: “4 single whiskies and the risk of accidents can be twice as great, 6 singles and the risk can be 6 times as great, 8 and the risk can be 25 times as great”. This was at a time when having ‘one for the road’ was the thing to do and half of male drivers admitted drink driving on a weekly basis.

It had been an offence to be found drunk in charge of any mechanically propelled vehicle since 1925 but it wasn’t until 1962 with the introduction of the Road Traffic Act, that the possibility of using blood, urine or breath for alcohol analysis was considered as a scientific measure of fitness to drive.

Successful drink driving prosecutions relied heavily on subjective tests that would see drivers on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol being asked to stand on one leg, or walk in a straight line, along with observations of police doctors and witness statements.

Following royal assent of the Road Safety Act 1967, breathalysers were, for the first time, legally allowed to be used as a method of estimating a driver’s alcohol concentration at the roadside, In addition, a defined blood alcohol ethanol concentration (80mg%) was introduced, which if exceeded an individual would be committing an offence.

Initially, breathalysers were used to justify the arrest of a driver suspected to be under the influence of alcohol before evidential blood or urine samples were taken at the police station. For the measurements of alcohol intoxication to be accepted as legal evidence they needed to be accurate and legally traceable. Standard solutions of aqueous ethanol were developed to calibrate instruments used for measuring alcohol levels, with certified reference materials (CRM) used to assign concentration values to the standard solutions. This ensured that the measurements would be accepted in court.

The maximum legal blood alcohol limit in the UK was set at 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood or the equivalent of 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine and the campaign began to challenge attitudes towards drink driving.

Fast forward 50 years to 5 December 2014 and the legal blood alcohol limit in Scotland has been reduced to 50 milligrammes of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood (equivalent to 22 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitre of breath, 67 milligrammes per 100 millilitre of urine) bringing it in line with most other European countries. Until the change, Scotland had the same limit as the rest of Britain.

Through a combination of enforcement of the drink drive limits and road safety campaigning, road deaths attributed to drink driving have fallen in the UK from 1,640 in 1979 (when the first figures were available) to 230 in 2012. The new lower limit in Scotland has been billed as a direct attempt to further reduce these deaths.

LGC has a role to play in the campaign to reduce drink drive fatalities. In its capacity as the UK’s designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and bio-measurements, LGC has produced a range of certified reference materials (CRMs) for ethanol in water including concentrations of 50 and 67 milligrammes of ethanol per 100 millilitres – in line with the new Scottish limits for blood and urine alcohol concentrations respectively.

These CRMs have been bought by forensic laboratories for use when carrying out analytical measurements. They can be used for the calibration and validation of methods for the determination of ethanol in biological fluids, and have been produced under LGC’s ISO Guide 34 accreditation for the production of reference materials.

The reference materials meet the stringent technical guidelines of European Reference Materials (ERM®) status and the data has been accepted as complying with the principles laid down in the Technical Guidelines of the ERM co-operation agreement between LGC, the European Commission’s Institute for Reference Materials and Measurements (IRMM) and the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM).

There is no fool-proof way of drinking and staying under the drink drive limit. Alcohol affects people differently and it is very difficult to provide an accurate estimate of how much alcohol the average person can consume and remain within the legal limits. Factors including your weight, age, sex and metabolism, the type and amount of alcohol you’re drinking, what you’ve eaten recently and your stress levels at the time all play a part. Experts advise that the safest way to ensure that you are not over the limit is to drink no alcohol. As the 2014 drink drive campaign declares 230 deaths a year is still too many!

 

Visit LGC Standards for information on the range of CRMs:

ERM-AC401    Aqueous Ethanol 80 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC402    Aqueous Ethanol 107 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC403    Aqueous Ethanol 200 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC409    Aqueous Ethanol 20 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC510    Aqueous Ethanol 50 mg/100 mL

ERM-AC511    Aqueous Ethanol 67 mg/100 mL

If requested, we also have the capability to produce and certify a material at any level between 20 – 600 ethanol / 100mL

Nov 21

Proficiency Testing and the fight against food fraud

The supply of food and beverages is now a massive worldwide industry generating trillions of pounds for producers, retailers and intermediaries. ‘Value’ is generally added at each stage of a product’s life and certain foods or beverages have ‘added value’ as a result of a designated geographical origin or as a result of production using a specified process.
pan fried white fish on salad dinner food iStock_000003323578XLarge

In recent years ‘issues’ relating to the safety, quality and origin of food have arisen as a result of mistakes in the production process, such as the introduction of waste materials into food production processes, or via illicit production or adulteration.

The analysis of foods, raw materials and ingredients may be undertaken by a number of different organisations, for a number of different reasons potentially pertaining to quality, for the purposes of brand protection or even for evidence in prosecution. In response to increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting or food adulteration, a wide range of analytical methodology is being developed and used by concerned organisations and agencies. An important aspect of method development and the on-going operation of analytical methods is verification of their performance by the use of Proficiency Testing (PT). PT is a unique tool for the assessment of these analytical methods as it is completely independent of the organisation undertaking the testing and is the only QC ‘tool’ where the analyst cannot know the correct answer in advance.

LGC operates a number of proficiency testing (PT) schemes, many of which are in the area of food and beverage analysis. These schemes are routinely used to assess the performance of analytical methods which have been validated for the qualitative identification of specific food products, or to quantitatively determine the concentration of characteristic components or contaminants.

The DAPS scheme focuses on the analysis of alcoholic beverages, such as cider, wine and spirits, with a specific sample included each round for the analysis of Scotch Whisky.

The QMAS scheme is concerned with methods used for the determination of quality parameters in meat and fish products. As a result of recent food ‘concerns’ the scheme has been expanded to include tests for the identification of fish species and of ‘contamination’ of meat and fish products.

The use of regular PT in these analytical areas, via the LGC schemes, provides valuable information on the performance of laboratories in key tests which are used on a day to day basis to detect counterfeit products and adulteration. Examination of PT data gives information on the accuracy and equivalence of analytical methods, robustness across a range of sample types and analytical matrices and the ‘performance’ of companies, laboratories and individual members of staff.

To find out more about how PT Schemes are used to tackle food and beverage fraud come to our Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’ on 24-25 November.

 

Nov 20

Food fraud or cross contamination: will it all come out in the wash?

mince_meat_webWhen the ‘horse meat incident’ emerged in January 2013, it caused anger and consternation from many consumers. They felt duped and cheated, but were all instances a case of unscrupulous businesses trying to profiteer at the expense of food safety?

A large scale investigation was launched into the food industry to establish how far reaching the contamination of processed beef products with horse and pork meat was.

While some companies were found to be trading 100% horse meat as beef products, others contained contamination at much smaller percentages. Thus the question arose – could contamination be down to carry-over on the processing line rather than a flagrant flouting of the law? And if so, what level of carry-over, if any, was acceptable?

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were advised by LGC and announced a threshold of 1% for reporting levels of carry-over.

But for some consumers, it is not just a question of being misled by the product labelling but the discovery they have consumed a meat they have chosen to exclude for religious beliefs; both Muslim and Jewish faiths outlaw the consumption of pig meat.

So, is it reasonable to expect the manufacturing industry to guarantee with 100% integrity the species content of the meat it is supplying – particularly when a product is declared halal or kosher?

There is no direct legal requirement for manufacturers to clean mincing equipment between red meat species but in any case, would this help to minimise or even eliminate carry-over when more than one meat species is processed on the same production line?

LGC undertook a research project, commissioned by Defra and FSA, investigating whether carry-over of meat species occurs during the industrial production of minced meat when good manufacturing practice (GMP) is followed and, if it does, at what concentrations it occurs. The mincing of pork followed by beef was studied.

To check the effectiveness of the deep chemical and water wash cleaning regimes used in commercial meat plants, LGC scientists took samples of minced beef and swabs of the equipment and analysed them for traces of pork.

Find out what the research revealed and get the latest updates on the science of food authenticity, food integrity and food fraud at our Government Chemist Conference ‘Beating the cheats: Quality, safety and authenticity in the food chain’ on 24-25 November.

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