NSF's Miller says 'honest and open discussion' will help define best practices for DNA testing

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

NSF International operates ISO/IEC 17025-accredited labs in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia.
NSF International operates ISO/IEC 17025-accredited labs in North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Related tags Dna testing Scientific method

New leadership at NSF's AuthenTechnologies unit will 'more closely align' it with the organization's 'core scientific testing and research services', and will help to better define where DNA testing is best used, the division's new chief said.

Jesse Miller, PhD, was named as the new division chief last week. Miller is a molecular microbiologist with extensive experience in custom R&D services as well as primary research leading to peer-reviewed publication. He currently serves as director of applied research at NSF International.

Increase in demand for DNA testing

Miller said the demand for DNA testing is ramping up within the dietary supplement industry. As part of an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, GNC has called for DNA testing where appropriate among the hundreds of companies that make up its supply chain. Miller said, in a strange way, Schneiderman may have done the industry a service, even though his first investigation into herbal supplements sold by GNC and other retailers has been roundly criticized for its flawed methodology.

Were aligning further with NSFs scientific processes and putting transparency at the forefront of what we do at NSF AuthenTechnologies,​ said Lori Bestervelt, executive vice president and chief technical officer at NSF International. Dr. Miller is well respected in the scientific community and, with his DNA testing expertise, hes a great fit for this role.

The NYAG interaction was an interesting time for DNA technology. For botanical testing this technology was still in its infancy. People really didnt understand what power the NextGen sequencing brought to the testing regime. People in the industry are now getting more familiar with this testing,​ Miller told NutraIngredients-USA.

Miller added that among this increase in understanding is knowing what DNA testing can’t do, too. Among the criticisms of earlier efforts was the identification of stray bits of DNA in botanical samples, with these results being reported in the press sometimes without sufficient context.

This technology is very sensitive and can find minute bits of DNA in a sample. I couldnt say these sequences are incidental without more data,​ Miller said.

If you test broccoli when it comes from the field for example, you are probably going to find grass sequences in there. So you have to use the right fit-for-purpose test,​ he said.

Where does DNA testing fit best?

Jesse Miller PhD

Miller said that the near-term task will be to define best practices for where DNA testing properly fits within the ID regimen for a botanical supplement. Each company’s supply chain is different, with some receiving extracts manufactured by someone else. And even if a company receives whole or minimally processed plant materials, DNA testing could make more certain the identification of those materials, but won’t say anything about their quality. It can’t verify whether the raw materials were processed properly by the harvester so that they still contain the target levels of bioactives. Nor would a positive DNA test establish whether the shipment consists of the specified plant parts.

I think through open and honest discussion this will work out over time,​ Miller said.

NSF said that under Miller’s leadership AuthenTechnologies will expand the range of services it provides and re-engineer many of its testing, customer service and reporting processes. The lab also screens for contaminants, adulterants, allergens and fillers in supplement products.

Were working to make it easy for customers to use NSF AuthenTechnologies services,​ Miller said.

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