NOW has added new equipment in the form of a DupontRiboPrinter System, which uses DNA-fingerprinting technology to identify specific strains of bacteria as well as unknown microorganisms.
DNA testing has been a sore point for the dietary supplement industry in the past couple of years. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s assaults on the industry were based on what at first was deemed to be an inappropriate use of the technology. It was used to look for DNA where it would not be expected, such as in an herbal extract, and the absence of a positive return was taken to mean that the products were fraudulent, and contained none of the stated botanical.
In the probiotics realm, though, the issue is entirely different. The use of DNA in microbial testing is well established in sterile manufacturing or food processing plants and in hospitals, for example. DNA use in verifying probiotic strains is a newer application of the technology, and NOW says it is the first dietary supplement brand to have this advanced quality capability in house. The RiboPrint system automatically compares samples to an on-board identification database of about 7,000 patterns covering more than 1,400 species.
“Prior to the use of RiboPrinter technology, NOW’s probiotic testing program included enumeration of total probiotic content (CFU’s) and standard biochemical techniques for single strain identification of freeze dried raw material received from probiotic suppliers. Most finished goods manufacturers rely on probiotic strain suppliers to conduct all the identity testing and release products based on the certificate of analysis of the strain by the supplier. These techniques had limited capability to definitively identify foreign strains,” Rick Sharpee, PhD, NOW’s director of science and nutrition, told NutraIngredients-USA.
The new products will carry a “Strain Verified” seal, that Sharpee says will reassure the consumer that the products have met the most stringent testing standards. NOW is already noted for its comprehensive testing capabilities, he noted.
“The use of RiboPrinter technology provides definitive genetics-based identification at not only the genus and species level of the probiotic, but also down to the strain level. This provides assurance to consumers that the strain used in clinical studies is the same as the strain in the finished product,” he said.
Quantification in finished product testing
NOW sells a variety of probiotic products, including some that have as many as 10 different strains. This multi-species approach has strong backing within the probiotics community, with the thought being that since the microbiome has hundreds of strains, the goal should be to boost that diversity, rather than amping up one particular species. But while the DNA test can verify the strains in the bottle, it can’t say how much of each strain is in there. Sharpee said NOW carefully measures the CFU counts of the strains at the front end of the manufacturing process, and is working to even more fully characterize those products via finished product testing.
“By using the “strain verified” seal on our products, NOW guarantees that we have tested the finished product and confirmed the strains stated on the label are in the finished product. NOW is currently collaborating with our strain suppliers to validate a molecular method to identify not only the strain but also the concentration of each strain in the final finished product blend. This is an important quality initiative since the concentration of each strain required for the desired health benefit claimed on the label was established by clinical testing and we can assure the consumer they are receiving the clinically validated concentration of each strain,” he said.