Nutrasource Blog

Can DNA Testing Solve the Supplement Industry’s Identity Problems?

Posted by David Erickson, Ph.D. on Thu, Jun 21, 2018

It’s surprisingly easy not to notice that you are living in a time of revolution. The technological revolution we are living through has been rumbling along for so long now, sometimes it’s hard to appreciate it or get excited. But the revolution in DNA sequencing and its effects on society are worth our attention – especially when it comes to how we characterize and identify natural products.

The Evolution of DNA Sequencing Technology

If it took 25,000 years of human history to lead up to the discovery of DNA in 19531, it was just a hop in time to the publication of the first human genome in 20012. When it was announced, the project to finish the 3 billion base human genome came in ahead of schedule and under budget, albeit at the low, low price of $3 billion dollars. Since then, it can come as no surprise that the ability to capture and sequence DNA from virtually any living thing has led to remarkable discoveries and new tools for health, medicine, agriculture, and the environment.

DNA purple

The technology that allows us to sequence DNA itself is one of the major revolutions. The genomes of living organisms are large and complex, and for decades the technologies we had for capturing and reading DNA could only do so for tiny fragments at any given time. If we regard DNA as our instruction manual, what we are doing with DNA sequencing is effectively reading that manual, one small piece at a time.

How Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) Works

The revolution in DNA sequencing came in the form of what is now termed Next Generation Sequencing (NGS), which encompasses a number of different techniques (e.g., Illumina3, Ion Torrent4, PacBio5), all of which are similar in that instead of capturing and reading a single small DNA sequence at one time, they capture and read many thousands or millions of DNA sequences at the same time. An early term used for what we now term NGS was “Massively Parallel Sequencing,” but that proved less catchy than NGS, even if it better described the actual process.

The bottom line is that the ability to capture and read vast quantities of DNA sequence data is no longer a limitation for our use of DNA data.

And with that increase in capacity, came a precipitous drop in the cost of sequencing, such that a human genome now costs ~$1,2006, a staggering 2,500,000 times reduction in cost!

DNA Testing as a Solution for Species ID in Supplements, Foods, and Probiotics

As often happens, answering one question leads to another. And so it has been with the use of DNA data. Now that we have the technology to capture vast amounts of data cheaply, the challenge is how to analyze it.

Fortunately, a new breed of powerful tools has been developed to meet that challenge. Tools like Genome2-ID™, developed by DNA4 Technologies, use the vast and inexpensive DNA recovered from nearly any sample to provide unbiased estimates of the species origin of that data. Genome2-ID™ is one of a class of data analysis programs termed “metagenomic,” which means a mixture of genomes, and the software sorts out that mixture by comparing the DNA data to good quality reference DNA samples.

Genome2-ID™ delivers high resolution DNA identifications for food, supplements, and probiotics, while ensuring industry leading transparency via the Genome2-ID™ portal7 that allows any potential user to test and evaluate the technology.

The Future of DNA Testing is Now

As asserted by Dr. Scott Jackson of the National Institute for Standards and Technology at the recent Probiota meetings, methods that use NGS data in conjunction with metagenomic software will become the routine standard for DNA based species identification.

While such an assertion may have been unthinkable only a few years ago, the revolution we are living inside of keeps rolling on, such that the future isn’t the future anymore. The future is now, and the ability of DNA data to improve health, medicine, and food safety and quality is here to stay.


David-Erickson-cDr. David Erickson is Director of Genomics Research at Nutrasource and founder of the biotech company DNA4 Technologies. He has published widely in the subject areas of genetics, ecology, and evolution and has overseen the development of Genome2-ID. In 2017, DNA4 Technologies partnered exclusively with Nutrasource to offer Genome2-ID testing services for dietary supplements, foods, probiotics, and more. To learn more about DNA testing, contact us today.

Topics: Product Testing & Certifications, Probiotics, Dietary Supplements/Natural Health Products