THIRD-GENERATION DNA profiling recently developed by Irish-owned technology company IdentiGen has enabled Ireland to become the first country in the world to establish a national DNA database of pig-breeding stock. This will ensure that the origin of all pigmeat produced here can be scientifically verified.
IdentiGen was set up in 1996. A spin out from the Institute of Genetics in Trinity, its formation was partly inspired by the BSE crisis of the mid-1990s in the UK and its founders, geneticists Ciaran Meghen and Ronan Loftus, were among the first scientists to apply molecular genetic techniques to verify the source of meat products.
The company commercialised the application of these techniques on an industrial scale for the meat processing and retailing industries and has grown into a 50-strong company with labs in Ireland, the UK, Canada and the US. Its expertise has been extended for use with poultry, fish and for very specific applications such as the verification of kosher or organic meat products. One of the company’s partnerships close to home is with the UK’s Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society. It uses IdentiGen’s system to ensure the authenticity of the breed is safeguarded. Meghen says that growing demand from consumers for greater traceability drives this demand for tighter verification.
Over the past two years, IdentiGen has been working on developing third generation DNA profiling. Ciaran Meghen says it will allow the company to diversify into new areas and become even more global in its reach. “The technology is evolving all the time but the degree to which the third generation technology allows the process to be automated is multiples ahead of the second generation,” he says. “DNA profiling is still a very technical process but with the third generation it is faster, more efficient and more cost effective. Our next generation of products. . . will enable our customers to maximise the quality, nutrition content and economic value of their food products.”
IdentiGen has very much carved out its own international niche and Meghen says what makes its approach unique is that it tends to work across the supply chain not with just one part of it. For example, its clients for the establishment of the Irish pig-breeding database are the IFA and Bord Bia. “This cross-sectoral approach is unusual as it’s more complex and requires more time and money, so it’s not something others in the area have focused on,” he says.