New Test May Be Fastest, Easiest Yet for Detecting GMOs in Foods

A new test developed by scientists in China claims to be the first comprehensive method available to detect genetic modifications in food. The test, called MACRO, is a combined microchip-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and microarray system that the investigators say can monitor 91 DNA targets in a single test.

MACRO—which stands for multiplex amplification on a chip with readout on an oligo microarray—can identify about 97 percent of known commercialized genetic modifications to food, about twice as many as any other test currently available.

The researchers have also developed an online tool, the GM Events Determination Program (GDP), for rapid reporting of MACRO results. “In the GDP program, the final detection results at the event level can be analyzed by a computer, and the potential GM events can be identified according to a complex combination of different GM elements, transgenes, and species endogenous reference genes. With the help of GDP, it is possible to easily obtain the final GM events or potential GM events in a mixture of samples with high accuracy,” write Ning Shao and colleagues from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in the December 22, 2013 online edition of Analytical Chemistry.

“The test is fairly new, so there is not a lot of information about it yet, but if it’s accurate, it will provide another way to hold companies accountable,” says Nicole McCann, food campaigns director for GMOInside, a campaign that calls for full disclosure about GMO content in foods.

“If you’re able to test for GMOs in an affordable and quick manner, it would be huge for consumers who have no idea about when GMOs are in their foods,” agrees Elizabeth O’Connell, GMOInside’s campaign director. “Testing at the ingredient level has been more common, and any test of the final product is much harder because the ingredients have been processed so much. If this test is as good as they claim, it will be an amazing tool for third-party verification of companies’ claims that their products are not made with GMOs.”

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