GMO Testing Challenges and Applications

By Kyle Donovan, EnviroLogix Business Unit Manager

GMO Testing Challenges and Applications

Commonly, GMO testing occurs in order to prevent contamination in GMO-free food and feed supplies.  This testing for low-level presence of genetically modified organisms (unintentional GMO contamination), is driven by consumer demand for non-GMO products.  For this, customers need highly-sensitive and rapid methods to identify GMO contamination, down to as little as 0.1%, or 1 GMO seed in 1,000 conventional seeds.

GMO Testing Applications

Testing for low-level presence can serve multiple markets.  If a trait is not approved in China, then grain exports cannot contain the unapproved GMO.  Other foreign markets, like Japan and Europe, have different purity requirements in order to meet non-GMO needs.  As GMO awareness increases, there will be increasing consumer demand for GMO labelling in foods.  Already in other countries, food manufacturers test raw ingredients, like corn and soy, for GMO contamination before it enters their processes; this enables them to screen out contamination before it makes it into product.  This will be a growing need in the US, as consumers drive demand for non-GMO products.

There is also need for the opposite application, where seed companies need a rapid method to test for the presence of the GMO traits in order to assure the quality of their GMO products.  Instead of testing for contamination, they test for the proper expression of the desired GMO traits in the seed product.

GMO Testing Challenges

Obtaining a representative sample is one of the most important factors when evaluating product for GMO contamination.  It can be challenging, depending on the application, to collect a statistically representative sample.  For any large amount of material, one should take multiple, representative subsamples and thoroughly blend them together.  Think of trying to detect below 1% GMO.  That’s less than 10 seeds in 1000.  Chances are, you won’t get the right answer if you take a single 10 seed, or even 50 seed, sample and assume it is completely representative.

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