Pig, cow or vegetable? USM test gets it right
Tue, Nov 03, 2009
New Straits Times

GEORGE TOWN, MALAYSIA: Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) has developed a method to identify the source of gelatine, a protein substance used to make soft and hard capsules by the pharmaceutical industry.

Associate Professor Dr Gam Lay Harn, of USM's Pharmaceutical Sciences School, said the method, which used a protein-based biomarker, was the first of its kind in the world.

She said it could be used to determine if capsules sold in the market were made of porcine or bovine gelatine.

There are concerns among Muslim, Hindu and vegetarian consumers worldwide that most gelatine sources are derived from the skin and bones of animals like cattle and pigs.

The biomarker extracts proteins from the gelatine capsule and separates the mixture to their molecular weights to reveal the different protein profiles.

"The current method using polymerase chain reaction, which identifies pig DNA, is neither accurate nor reliable as the DNA may be destroyed in the gelatine-making or capsule-making process.

"So if traces of porcine are not present, it would be concluded that the gelatine was made of bovine and, therefore, halal, which may not be accurate at all," she said at a press conference at the university yesterday.

She said the biomarker would give results of 100 per cent accuracy for pure porcine and bovine capsules, and also identify the various sources of mixed gelatine.

"With this, we hope to promote consumer confidence in pharmaceutical products and we hope that in the near future, all medicine labels would state whether capsules are made from porcine, bovine or vegetable gelatine."

The biomarker has been patented locally and internationally. Pharmaceutical companies and the Health Ministry are among its clients.

The school's dean, Associate Professor Dr Syed Azhar Syed Sulaiman, said the invention, which cost RM300,000 (S$122,400) in research grant, won an award at last month's 2009 International Exposition of Research and Inventions of Institutes of Higher Learning.

He also revealed that USM was looking into establishing a halal lifestyle transformation nexus, as a centre for research related to the halal lifestyle, not just products.

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