Mar 28

Keeping sport clean

Last week, the sporting world’s leading anti-doping experts met in London where they discussed the ongoing issue of contamination in sports nutrition.

Speakers at the summit included World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Director General, David Howman, US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) CEO, Travis Tygart, and International Cycling Union (UCI) Director General, Martin Gibbs, and time and again the debate came back to the risk of inadvertent doping through the use of sports nutrition products.

The conference focused on the latest progress and practices from across the world in the fight for fair and clean sport, though there was a general acceptance that sports supplements presented a risk to athletes at all levels, owing to the possibility of contamination with substances prohibited in sport.

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Athletes and governing bodies such as UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the Football Association (FA) acknowledged the risk and encouraged athletes to only use supplements that have been through the Informed-Sport risk assessment programme.

Terence O’Rorke, Business Sector Manager for the Informed-Sport programme, attended the event at Wembley Stadium and said: “This conference was the latest step in the fight for clean sport, and the issue of supplement contamination was discussed widely.

“The was a general acceptance that Informed-Sport – which certifies that all nutritional supplements and ingredients that bear the logo have been regularly tested for banned substances in our world-renowned anti-doping lab – was the most effective way for athletes to manage this risk.

“Events like this are vital in ensuring that all of us who have a passion for clean sport continue to share ideas for the benefit of athletes and to help them avoid inadvertently testing positive.

“This is especially important ahead of the 2015 World Anti-Doping Code, which increases the sanction for an anti-doping rule violation. Informed-Sport is an important element in protecting clean athletes.”

A short documentary film highlighting Informed-Sport’s contribution to cleaner sport can be seen here.

 

Jan 28

Alcohol and drug facilitated sexual assault

Today, Stephen Kayongo, Toxicology Casework Team Lead at LGC, appeared on This Morning’s regular ‘Crime Week’ to provide expert opinion during a feature on drink spiking. Drink spiking is strongly linked to drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA), which refers to the use of a drug, noxious substance or chemical agent to facilitate sexual contact. It is not a new crime; in the UK offenses relating to the use of illegal substances to facilitate sexual assault to date to 1861. Desirable agents for this purpose include Rohypnol, GHB and Ketamine. These drugs produce sedative and hypnotic effects to alter the victim’s behaviour and cause antegrade amnesia, so that the victim has no recollection of events.[1]

In order to determine the role of alcohol in DFSA, ITV conducted a controlled experiment to demonstrate the relationship between alcohol consumption, behaviour and drink spiking. Stephen Kayongo, alongside former police officer, Sue Hill, noted that as party-goers were consuming more alcohol they were less wary of their drinks, making it easier for actors to go around and ‘spike’ them. The number of drinks the actors were able to spike gradually increased throughout the night. Kayongo‘s central point was that when you consume alcohol you are less aware of your surroundings and hence less able to take care of yourself.

In 2005, Fiona Perry, Senior Reporter in Toxicology at LGC alongside Michael Scott-Ham, identified alcohol as a considerable risk factor in DFSA in an article titled ‘Toxicological findings in cases of alleged drug-facilitated sexual assault in the United Kingdom over a 3 year period’. Fiona Perry examined 1014 cases of claimed DFSA. The results showed that of the 1014 samples examined, 659 contained alcohol and/or an illicit drug. Of these, 47 cases contained alcohol (with or without an illicit drug and 344 contained an illicit drug (with or without alcohol).

The number of complainants in which a sedative drug was found that could not be attributed to voluntary use was very low. Perry and Scott-Ham noted that of the 1014 cases of claimed DFSA, only 21 cases were attributed to involuntary ingestion of an illicit drug. This number included three cases in which the drug involved was Ecstasy, which is disinhibiting rather than sedative.  Of deliberate spikings, alcohol was detected in 5 cases. The presence of alcohol could not be ruled out in most of the other cases, because samples were collected within 12 hours for only two of the incidents. However, the low number of individuals that took a sedative drug involuntarily does not necessarily reflect the true number of DFSA cases that have occurred.

Almost 10 years on, perhaps it would be a good time to review this type of crime from a toxicological background and compare findings.  The toxicology department hope to be able to do this in the near future.

Both Kayongo and Perry identified alcohol as the considerable factor in DFSA type cases. LGC’s toxicology offerings are tailor-made to meet the needs of individual cases such as DFSA. This involves the analysis of a wide range of body fluid and tissue samples taken from minute tracings of drugs and interpretation of the results in the specific case circumstances. Click here to find out more about our toxicology services.

This Morning’s latest Crime Week launched yesterday, with the Home Secretary, Theresa May, in the studio to discuss falling crime rates and how the government is tackling issues including paedophilia, the grooming of children on the internet, the ‘luxury’ lifestyle of prisoners and the police force.

Click here to watch Stephen Kayongo on This Morning.

 



[1] Michael Scott-Ham, Burton Fiona C, ‘Toxicological findings in cases of alleged drug-facilitated sexual assault in the United Kingdom over a 3-year period’, Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, 12, pp. 175-186

Jan 20

The benefits of Marker Assisted Selection/Breeding

Last week we attended the Plant and Animal Genome Conference (PAG), which provides a forum on the recent developments and future plans for plant and animal genome projects. At PAG LGC’s scientists provided information on LGC’s genomics offerings, including Marker Assisted Selection/Breeding (MAS/MAB).

MAS is a process whereby a marker (morphological, biochemical or one based on DNA/RNA variation) can be tracked through populations and used for indirect selection of genetic determinants of the trait of interest such as productivity, disease resistance, stress tolerance and quality.

MAS/MAB provides focus to conventional agricultural breeding programs and enables accelerated production of novel breeds and cultivars using polymorphic alleles as a precision breeding tool. The application of KASP chemistry on our SNPline instruments can accelerate both plant and animal breeding programs effectively with cost efficiency.

LGC’s aim is to provide an easy to use service or implement the SNPline workflow for all agricultural breeding programs, from SNP discovery using NGS platforms to assay design and validation. KASP technology can be applied at any point during the breeding program regardless of project size. The genotyping service can include assistance with assay design and assay optimisation.  KASP assays developed in SNP discovery experiments can be used throughout breeding programs without restriction of sample sizes (parental screening to field trial scale).

KASP chemistry has been implemented in breeding projects of global importance. This is evident in the Global Challenge Program (GCP), within which a wide range of economically important crop species have been further improved for farmers working in challenging environments. The GCP project has enabled the development of thousands of KASP genotyping assays, and these are now publically available to the whole agricultural community.

African Buffalo susceptibility to ‘Bovine Tuberculosis’, highlighted how identified polymorphisms/genes may hold the potential for marker-assisted breeding programmes. The aim of breeding was to ensure more Bovine tuberculosis (BTB) resistant animals and herds within both the national parks and the private sector. KASP genotyping from LGC enabled the customer to determine the alleles conferring resistance at a specific locus within the buffalo genome.

Visit our website to find out more MAS/MAB.

Jan 16

Cracking down on legal highs

 

Over the last decade there have been significant changes in the recreational drug scene. In particular, there has been an increase in the use of a range of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), more commonly known as legal highs.

The number of deaths relating to legal highs has been steadily rising in the last few years and since coming to power the UK government has banned over 200 psychoactive substances. Today, the UK government announced that it will be seeking to opt out of the forthcoming EU Psychoactive substances regulation. The government has claimed it requires a more speedy and effective approach to deal with NPS activity. For further information on why this decision has been taken please see the Government Chemist blog.

When it comes to NPS testing, LGC has a rather unique set up: it has its own forensic toxicology, drugs, occupational and sports testing labs, as well as being a global standards and proficiency testing producer and supplier. LGC uses its own findings and customer requests from around the world to feed into the development of new standards and services. LGC has a good understanding of customer needs and a good support network for troubleshooting.

Scientists at LGC understand the importance of taking a proactive, rather than reactive approach when producing reference materials to test for legal highs. Our scientists carefully monitor and test purchase the websites of legal high vendors to anticipate further trends and meet the laboratories demand’s for new reference materials.

For 25 years, LGC has been characterising and developing reference materials to assist forensic, clinical and toxicology laboratories to identify and quantify NPS or ‘research chemicals’ such as flubromazepam, etizolam, methiopropamine, MDAI and methoxatamine.

As well as developing reference materials, LGC is further attempting to monitor the use of NPS across the UK by attempting to track and understand NPS trends. NPS trends often start in Europe; the UK is cited as the ‘global hub’ on NPS. LGCs UK forensic service and well established European footprint are in a good position to indentify new trends.

LGC, in collaboration with Guys and St Thomas’ hospital, has used innovative techniques to determine NPS trends in London. In 2013 scientists at LGC used anonymously pooled urine samples from within a London nightclub to confirm that drugs were being used by individuals attending that club. Metabolite detection indicated that drugs were being used and not simply discarded into the urinal.

The identification of new trends and the testing of legal highs will continue to be important as the government continues to attempt to curb legal high usage in 2014.

Nov 18

DNA in Food and Forensics

Michael Walker, Science and Food Law Consultant with LGC, recently gave a well received talk on DNA in the McClay Library at Queens University, Belfast.

The aim of the talk was to inform and update RSC and IFST members in NI on DNA topics as part of the annual lecture series run by RSC local section and Michael described the structure of DNA, the PCR reaction and illustrated its use in forensic DNA profiling. The Colin Pitchfork case was one of the first to use DNA profiling in a criminal investigation and although the murderer of two teenage schoolgirls was eventually tracked down, the first prime suspect in the case was shown to be innocent by DNA profiling. Michael also described an intelligence led DNA screen from his time at Forensic Science Northern Ireland that led to the conviction of Arthur Murray for the manslaughter of Patrick McGrath.  The DNA work of James Walker, Team Leader in Specialised Forensic DNA at LGC, on the identification of World War One remains from the battle of Fromelles also attracted keen interest from the audience of over 40 members of the Royal Society of Chemistry Local Section & Analytical Division, N.I. Region.

Michael went on to discuss real-time PCR in the detection of horse meat and why horse meat wasn’t detected in the food chain until the Food Safety Authority of Ireland began its investigations in late 2012. Extensive examples of other food crime, the scientific means of its detection and the difficulties of quantification in mixtures of species followed. Examples of referee analysis involving DNA included the detection of illegal GMO rice in imported food and confirmation of Public Analysts findings in the official surveys for horse meat and pig in beef products.

Finally, looking to the future, Michael discussed his involvement in the Defra/DH Elliott Review into the integrity of the food chain, ‘barcode of life’ approaches to identification of the ‘unknown unknowns’ and LGC’s new crime scene DNA instrument, paraDNA, a tool that enables us to establish very early on whether human DNA is present in crime stains.

Slides of Michael’s presentation will soon be available on the Government Chemist website.   

Oct 24

How genomics helped determine the roots of the potato blight

Recently, a team of international scientists have used DNA sequencing to effectively determine the cause of the Irish potato famine.

Having been introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century from Peru, the potato soon became an important food staple that played a major role in the 19th century population boom in Europe. The Europeans propagated the potato by planting a piece of potato, thus growing clones of only a few varieties. As a result, when the pathogen reached Ireland on ships travelling between America and Britain it spread rapidly.  The famine killed more than 1 million people and acted as a watershed event for the Irish that caused 1 million people to emigrate and fueled tension between Irish Catholics and Protestants in England who offered little aid. Up until very recently, the cause of this famine has remained a mystery.

Thanks to DNA sequencing the Irish potato famine has been attributed to a single strain of the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora infestans. This pathogen originates from the Amercias but is now extinct. This is the first time that scientists have decoded the genome of an ancient plant pathogen and its plant host from dried leaves. Scientists extracted fragments of ancient DNA from the leaves and were surprised to find that the pathogen was so well preserved that they could sequence the ancient DNA directly and reconstruct its genome.

At LGC, our scientists have over twenty years experience in delivering both large and small scale DNA sequencing projects. Our rapid DNA sequencing methods have accelerated biological and medical research discovery. Indeed, one global agricultural company has begun working with us on a Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) project, via targeted re-sequencing on specific targets (genes, parts of genes or other pre-defined regions of interest) in thousands of plant seedlings in an effort to establish specific biomarkers (mutations or sequence patterns) for a given interesting trait.

Our NGS technologies can help reduce the costs of sequencing and have led to novel approaches in many fields of biology. Our expertise includes the development of a proprietary method to sequence complete transcriptomes and we have developed significant experience in sequencing bacterial and fungal genomes as well as metagenomes from various habitats. As the food industry looks to address the need to increase global food production, thinking and expertise such as NGS and Marker Assisted Selection will become increasingly important.

May 09

LGC supports science, innovation, research, analysis and…“This Morning”

LGC is a world leader in forensic science and the UK’s leading full service forensics provider.

We offer a comprehensive range of forensic science services, based on an extensive range of techniques and serve the police, crime enforcement agencies and an increasing number of private sector clients.

In order to highlight the role that forensic science can play in solving crime we have been working with ITV’s This Morning show, as part of ‘Crime Week’ (in November 2012 and April 2013).

Our first collaboration covered Blood Pattern Analysis (BPA) – particularly cast off and voids – protein stains, chemical development, footwear marks for intelligence and evidential purposes, presumptive test for drugs of abuse and cutting agents, and why Holly ought not to sit on the chair before examination for fibre transfer!

Focusing on  BPA, we were able to show that distribution and pattern can often explain exactly how the blood has ‘appeared’ at the scene and what has gone on, while also highlighting that thorough microscopic screening can identify even the tiniest traces of blood on  an item. Similarly, locating, recovering and examining marks and trace evidence is fundamental to forensic investigation. Even the most expert criminal is likely to leave some evidence behind. Footprints, tools, weapons, and fingerprints all provide vital clues – and, in our experience, often the most elusive and conclusive proof to convict major crime suspects.

Our second appearance was to demonstrate fire investigation, looking at the differences between accidental ignition and arson and what a Crime Scene Investigator would look for and collect at a scene.

Fire impacts upon everything in its path and therefore poses some difficult challenges for forensic scientists. Fires often start accidentally as a result of faulty appliances or unattended candles. However, where arson is suspected investigators will search specifically for evidence of flammable liquids (or “accelerants”).

With the fantastic support of the Surrey Fire & Rescue Service we laid two fires – one with and one without petrol, but using similar material for burning. The development patterns were obvious and would have helped to establish the origin and cause of the fire, had it been a real scene. In this case, however, we were happy to share the spotlight with the Fire Rescue team’s fire-trained dog, Tilly, who was as attuned to the nuances of the accelerants as the drugs or explosives animals that we see deployed more often.

Naturally, a balance has to be found between us wanting to show the analytical science and using what works best for television, so, unfortunately, we weren’t able to explore the spectrographs that we also provided – that would have shown that one fire was set with paraffin (a GCMS fingerprint of paraffin looks like an umbrella) – nor gas headspace chromatography.

Working regularly with This Morning has been hugely enjoyable, nonetheless.  Maybe we can find a way to get some air time for some pure science next time…

Co-authored by Tracy Alexander.

Jan 21

Where’s the value in burger fraud?

HorsesInvestigations are under way to try to find out how beefburgers on sale in UK and Irish supermarkets became contaminated with horsemeat.

When asked about the issue, Michael Walker, Science and Food Law Consultant with LGC, said, “In the UK the presence of horsemeat and, for some, pigmeat in beefburgers, is objectionable and emphasises the need for vigilance in monitoring the supply chain with sound analytical testing.

It is possible that human error diverted the supply of horsemeat from legitimate producers to the plants that seem to be implicated. In some countries, of course, horsemeat is a legitimate part of the supply chain and traditional recipes for salami and salami-type products may include meats from animals such as wild boar, horse and donkey. 

However, it is also possible that fraud – including cheaper meats to ‘bulk up’ the main constituent meat product – is involved.

Thankfully there do not appear to be any health implications here but the incident emphasises the need for vigilance. A relatively large survey for horsemeat in salami was carried out in 2003 with essentially negative findings but this sort of thing crops up from time to time.

Regarding the presence of pigmeat in beefburgers, the FSAI have suggested that it may be cross contamination from handling pork meat in the same plant. This is credible, especially if the levels found were low but is worrying in that cleaning and separation are basic to good hygiene and should have worked to prevent cross contamination.

In the UK, it is an offence under Sections 14 and 15 of the Food Safety Act 1990 to sell food that is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the consumer, or to falsely or misleadingly describe or present food. Consumers do not expect horsemeat in beefburgers and for those who wish to avoid pigmeat the description and labelling of the food must be accurate and honest to allow them to do so.

DNA testing for meat species is a well established technique and I am sure the FSAI laboratories carried out stringent quality control of their testing to ensure accurate results.

Although objectionable to many, the presence of horsemeat carries no safety implications provided the proper hygiene and safety checks took place prior to and after slaughter. However if fraud was involved there is a risk that those checks were ignored, resulting in unknown possibilities of microbiological and chemical hazards such as food poisoning and veterinary drug residues.

Lastly, there is a section of the population that is at real risk from undeclared and fraudulent switching of food ingredients in the supply chain. People with allergies depend on accurate and honest labelling to protect them and there have been fatalities when, for example, peanuts have been used to substitute for more expensive nuts in food products.”

 

According to the BBC report, “A total of 27 burger products were analysed, with 10 of them containing traces of horse DNA and 23 containing pig DNA…. Horsemeat accounted for approximately 29% of the meat content in one sample from Tesco….”

Irish food safety officials, FSAI, who carried out tests two months ago, said the products had been stocked by a number of chains, including Tesco and Icelandstores in the UK.

They said “There is no risk to consumer health… we have evaluated the potential risks, such as the presence of bacteria or medicinal residues. Firstly, if bacteria were present, they would be killed by cooking and as these burgers are cooked before they are eaten, there is no risk to consumer health. Secondly, the burgers that tested positive for horse DNA were then tested for the presence of phenylbutazone, a commonly used medicine in horses that is not allowed in the food chain, and all of the results were negative.”

Tesco said it was “working… to ensure it does not happen again”.

Nov 01

What’s new in measurement?

At LGC we love measurement science, but realise it’s not to everyone’s tastes! So we’ve developed Catalyst, a newsletter that takes the vast discipline of metrology and makes it more digestible.

In this issue discover how LGC is applying leading-edge science and the development of improved measurement procedures to underpin some of the most challenging and important measurements made in the UK.

Also, are you baffled by reference materials? ‘What’s in a number?’ on page 4 sheds light on why reference materials are important and demonstrates real-life applications for using reference materials.

Are you making your measurements matter? See pages 6 and 7 to find out how to get help from the National Measurement System, including training, access to guidance documents and calibration services.

Uncertain about uncertainty? Our bite-size article on page 9 will add some certainty.

We hope you find this newsletter useful. Please let us know content you’d like featured and we’ll do our best to accommodate.

Oct 12

Selenium supplements

There are many challenges facing supplement manufacturers to ensure the safe and responsible developement of  food supplements.

Selenium, in particular, has become increasingly recognised in recent years and an essential mineral  to human health, and studies suggest that fortified foods can offer potential health benefits. However, there is a fine balance between toxic and beneficial effects of selenium.

This case study describes how LGC researchers are using their expertise in selenium analysis to develop a range of reference materials to ensure food and supplement manufacturers can verify the composition and safety of their products.

 

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