By GREGORY ZELLER //
In a further display of its unique – some would suggest universal – applicability, Applied DNA Sciences may soon find its way into your favorite facial cream.
And maybe your top sports drink, too, now that the surging biotech has engaged new research under a partnership with Lily of the Desert, a leading producer of Aloe vera-derived products including topical creams and nutritional beverages.
The Texas-based natural products producer and the Stony Brook-based supply-chain, anti-counterfeiting, anti-theft and product-authentication specialist have kicked off a pilot program designed to “demonstrate the feasibility of molecular tagging to create the industry’s first traceable and authenticated Aloe vera juices,” Applied DNA said in a statement.
Industries dealing in Aloe vera are no stranger to high-tech authentication methods. The plant, which grows wildly in tropical climates, is cultivated for agricultural and medicinal purposes, and proof of pedigree is significant – leading the International Aloe Science Council, a Maryland-based trade association representing the global Aloe vera industry, to contract Connecticut-based Process NMR Associates LLC to provide nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopic measurements and other sample analyses.
By measuring the concentration of glucose and malic acid in a sample – as well as its sacharride distributions, whole leaf markers and other biological fingerprints – NMR spectroscopy can provide a wealth of traceable information about the Aloe vera’s origins and journey to commercial grade.
But “NMR is not without flaws,” according to Glen Gillis, Lily of the Desert’s vice president of research and chief science officer: Preservatives, artificial flavors and other additives mixed into Aloe vera products can dilute the plant’s source DNA, challenging traceability.
Enter Applied DNA’s unique products, which are ideal for filling in Aloe vera’s authentication gaps, Gillis noted.
“The application of molecular tagging to Aloe vera, a new and cutting-edge technique used in tracking of the supply chain from source to shelf, will add to the industry another layer of protection for both branded products and end-user confidence,” he said.
It’s a healthy industry to pursue. Applied DNA notes a roughly $2 billion global Aloe vera extract market, with more than 60,000 metric tons expected to be harvested over the next decade.
Adding to that bottom-line potential, ironically, is a run of bad press, including a pending class-action lawsuit alleging that popular Aloe vera products sold by CVS, Target, Walgreens and other national retailers contain much lower than advertised levels of Aloe vera – some with no Aloe vera content whatsoever.
Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t police cosmetics, there’s no government watchdog specifically tracking things like Aloe vera content in so-called Aloe vera products – but a 2016 Bloomberg investigation revealed what the website ClassAction.com called “deception (that) apparently runs rampant in the aloe industry.”
That negative image prompted the IASC to call in Process NMR Associates. And it will likely prod manufacturers and retailers to take greater care in tracking their Aloe vera supply lines, and to share that information with consumers – precisely the sort of “transparency with certainty” that Applied DNA’s molecular tagging processes can provide, according to Barbara Brockway, the Stony Brook biotech’s director of personal care.
“Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency and they want to know the origins of the ingredients in the cosmetics they purchase,” Brockway said Tuesday. “With our work in Aloe vera, they are getting even more than this.
“They are getting forensic proof of where the materials come from.”
The collaboration marks the latest in a string of partnerships introducing Applied DNA’s proprietary protocols to a wide variety of industries and end users.
Over the past year, the biotech has applied its Signature T tagging and testing product-authentication platform to Bed Bath & Beyond products, signed on to provide “bulk DNA” for the in vitro diagnostics market, aligned with an international leather consortium, incorporated its DNA markers into document-authentication kits produced by a Melville-based forensic-analysis expert, extended the reach of its flagship SigNature DNA product into European auto markets and deepened existing ties to the U.S. government, including fresh deals with the federal Defense Logistics Agency.
Applied DNA has also assembled an all-star advisory board meant to identify new potential partners and guide its technologies into new markets. For instance, PepsiCo Vice Chairman Mehmood Khan was recruited to the board specifically to help the company find its way into the food production, packaging and delivery markets – a strategy that appears to be paying off, as the biotech wades into Lily of the Desert’s nutritional-drinks vertical.
It does so, according to Applied DNA CEO James Hayward, “at the frontier of supply-chain science.”
“A wide array of markets, from food to supplements to pharmaceuticals to personal care, stand to benefit from the specific advantages of this method of verification,” Hayward said. “These tags function as the equivalent of molecular certificates embedded in the Aloe vera.”
With the initial phase of the Lily of the Desert pilot study expected to wrap up this summer, the CEO said Applied DNA is anxiously anticipating the results.
“If successful, they have the potential to open up new commercial markets for the company,” Hayward said.