Posted on Mar 28, 2018, 1 a.m.
The list of foods and plants with health benefits is increasing constantly with research. Items such as acai, chia seeds, moringa powder and gojo berries that health conscious consumers seek which are attributed to stress reducing, immune system boosting, and detoxifying properties have been coined “superfoods”, functional foods would be more accurate a term.
In cold seasons in particular health conscious people want to use not only proven household remedies but also thanks to globalization, medicinal plants from abroad such as tulsi or Indian Basil. The more exotic the item is the problem becomes the less that same consumer may know to be sure that they have the original product in their hands. Mix ups and product counterfeiting are unfortunately increasing, as example caterpillar fungus an aphrodisiac in traditional medicines exports quantities eight times as much of it that is actually harvested, for this reason genetic barcodes have been developed by researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology for these plants and functional foods.
Even experts can have difficulty in identifying some counterfeit medicinal plants and functional foods. Often it is not known what they look like, or only a few species have the desired properties, for example there are 1400 species of bamboo but only 3 have leaves which can be used to prepare health promoting tea, and Indian basil is similar the right tulsi can be helpful in the treatment of bronchitis with the wrong kind causing allergic reactions.
Because of such risks products are checked for accuracy of the listed ingredients in import controls, which are mostly conducted microscopically with the help of botanical descriptions. In cases such as powders including chia this method is of no use, alternative methods such as gene sequencing which are costly and time consuming are used. Researchers have developed a method based on differences of gene sequences to specifically apply to gene scissors on points of DNA strands which make up the genetic material in a similar manner to a key fitting a lock in which the scissors will only fit in a specific pattern of gene fragment that will serve as genetic fingerprint for the species searched. This process resembles that of a barcode that can be read with the corresponding scanner. Over 7000 of such barcodes have already been collected are in the database. Developments such as this will help to ensure people get the right products and help to reduce possible bad effects and consequences.
Materials provided by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
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