The presence of undeclared allergens in food products poses a serious health risk to consumers and results in important economic losses for the food industry. The detection of allergens is typically performed using immunological methods. DNA-based methods can complement immunoassays and provide higher specificity and sensitivity, especially in processed foods. DNA-based identification of allergens is laborious and is currently only performed in well-equipped, specialised laboratories outside industry settings. The food industry necessitates a fast and on-site analytical alternative. In SafeFood, I will develop a protocol to implement cutting-edge Nanopore sequencing technology for rapid, portable identification of allergenic plant ingredients in complex, multi-ingredient food products.
DNA-based identification of allergenic plant species has been challenging due to the lack of variation of the traditional DNA barcodes. I will implement more robust species identification methods based on whole plastid genomes. First, I will compile a comprehensive open-access database of all allergen species’ plastid genomes. Then, DNA extraction and library preparation will be optimized for an on-site protocol tailored to the constraints of the food industry. I will create artificial mixtures of complex food, with varying concentrations of allergens to test the method’s sensitivity, specificity and repeatability and compare the results to those of immunoassays.
This project will take a significant step towards reducing the number of food-related allergen incidents by allowing the food industry to monitor quality and safety during the production process in a quick and easy way. This project will enable accurate and sensitive DNA-based detection of allergens, as well as provide the ingredient of processed foods. By testing food products along their supply chains, early interventions are possible, preventing the spread of contaminants and reducing health and financial risks.
MSCA-TOPP-UT-Toppfinansiering av MSCA utgående kandidater