Meat with no mystery

With recent scandals in the meat industry prompting consumers to call for greater accountability from suppliers, companies such as Maple Leaf, are looking for new ways to ensure that their products are exactly what they claim to be. This quest brought Maple Leaf to Trent and more, specifically, to Trent University’s DNA lab to look for solutions.

Vythegi Srithayakumar, a postdoc in Trent’s Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre works with Maple Leaf on a DNA traceability program for their meat products.

“We have the ability to extract so many samples using our robots in a short period of time, and the ability to automate everything on a large scale,” says Srithayakumar. “If industry wants us to test thousands of samples within a short period of time we can carry it out.”

Srithayakumar’s fellowship is jointly funded by Maple Leaf and Mitacs, an organization that creates alliances between private companies, government and academia.

The Mitacs fellowship fits perfectly with Srithayakumar’s goals to work in the private sector.

“I like finding answers to real questions,” she says. “When you are into pure research, you don’t get to see the results being applied right away. With the research I’m doing for Maple Leaf, I’m doing it at the same time as I’m having to apply it, and that’s what drives me.”

Maple Leaf’s Director of Emerging science says he appreciates the timeliness of Srithayakumar’s research.

“The recent European horsemeat scandal has focused the need for traceability and accountability right through to the final product on the consumer’s plate,” says John Webb. “The recent order-of-magnitude reduction in the cost of high-throughput DNA testing now makes this a practical possibility to ensure the integrity of products and build consumer confidence.”

Webb says the choice of partner was clear.

“Trent University is a world leader in the development of DNA technologies to track and protect wildlife.  We are thrilled and excited to have this opportunity to move closer to the group through the Mitacs fellowship.”

The partnership helps Srithayakumar build  industry contacts and apply her academic skills in a real-world setting.

Each month, Research Matters presents a daily series of blog posts based on a theme. This month’s theme is “Your Health.” Some of these stories have appeared previously in university publications. They are edited for brevity, clarity and style, and republished with permission here.

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