The main objective of the FEED-CODE Project is to develop a reliable, simple and cheap method, based on innovative DNA barcodes, for the fingerprinting of every individual plant species present in the animal feed supplied to livestock for meat and dairy production. To this end, FEED-CODE will provide final end-users with an effective and easy-to-use control system which assures compliance with the highest EU standards in food safety and quality.
TECHNICAL AND SCIENTIFIC OBJECTIVES
In scientific terms, FEED-CODE is an animal feed certification instrument/platform based on a procedure devised to guarantee the quality of meat and dairy products through an automatic, simple and rapid DNA barcode method that relies on plant tubulin-based polymorphisms (TBP).
What does that mean?
The method proposed within the FEED-CODE Project is based on the results achieved by the Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology (IBBA-CNR Milan), which is part of the National Research Council in Italy. Specifically, TBP is a molecular genetics identification method that allows the easy and simultaneous detection of the single, different components present in feed. Due to its wide versatility, it allows the detection of any plant species that may be used for feed preparation. The method is fast, reproducible, easy and comprehensible, and therefore meets all the requirements in terms of feed traceability requested by the current EU regulation. At the end of the procedure, feed composition is revealed by a DNA barcode which represents the sum of the individual DNA barcodes of each plant species that is present in the feed sample.
The TBP method, protected by European Patent No. 1144691 and owned by the National Council for Research in Italy, is based on the following procedural steps:
– The feed is crushed and partitioned in small aliquots of 10 to 12g each.
– Through chemical treatment, the DNA of the sample is extracted: a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is carried out in order to specifically amplify the targeted tubulin gene DNA regions.
– The amplified fragments are then separated through capillary electrophoresis, which allows the separation of peaks corresponding to DNA fragments of different length. Each peak can be specific for a given plant species.
– Each plant species is characterised by a number of peaks that can vary from 8 to 20, each one corresponding to fragments of different length.
– As a last step, the output of the capillary electrophoresis is recorded and the different plant species present in the feed are recognised thanks to their specific DNA barcode peak profiles.
Providing the actors along the food chain with such an automated and easy-to-use tool requires a number of intermediate steps. In accordance, to reach our main objective, the FEED-CODE Project is aims to:
– Provide a TBP-based DNA barcode to any of 30 different plant species that are part of the European catalogue and are principally used in the preparation of compound feed
– Provide a platform for the automatic identification of the plant components present in compound feed based on the TBP-derived DNA barcode
– Produce a set of specific probes so as to cover each of the selected 30 plant species in order to provide a further level of control and a tool for quantitative evaluations
– Validate the TBP-based data with the use of an additional molecular marker.
– Define a procedure and a new standard for labelling of animal feed, in compliance with EU regulation. The catalogue of feed samples that will emerge from this project can then be used by feed business operators.
– Validate this new labelling system among the involved associations and SMEs.