News & Events

Sara M. Handy, Ph.D.

Posted on October 2, 2020


Date - October 2, 2020
1:00 pm - 2:00 pm


Research Biologist
Office of Regulatory Science
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
United States Food and Drug Administration
Talk Title: Using Genomics to Identify Botanical Hazards in Foods and Dietary Supplements: Pine Mouth, Devil’s Snare, and Missing Valerian


 DNA based analyses that target genome differences have become a powerful and sometimes controversial tool in identifying species in raw and finished food products and dietary supplements. Due to the ever-increasing variety of plant species being traded in commerce around the world, proper  identification is proving to be a critical component of the FDA’s mission of assuring US consumers that the food they eat is both safe and accurately labeled. Since 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been developing a publicly available reference library of annotated chloroplast genome sequences and whole genome skims (GenomeTrakrCP, NCBI Bioproject: PRJNA325670) from authenticated specimen. This initiative aims to facilitate traceability and accurate ingredient identification in response to consumer’s demands for more transparency and accountability from the food supply and concerns about labeling and food allergies. The library includes a wide swath of plant groups with a focus on those found in foods and dietary supplements as well as known toxin producers, common contaminants, adulterants and their close relatives.

Together with collaborators from government agencies, academia, testing laboratories and industry we can leverage data across many disciplines of biology and chemistry including food safety, natural product research, systematics, bioinformatics and genomics.  These data have facilitated development of simplified assays used to screen food samples for targeted species (e.g., pine nut) at FDA-Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. The genome skims are also now being utilized and evaluated to ascertain their use for identifying plant samples, such as an in the 2019 case of a foodborne “outbreak” characterized by 4 deaths and approximately 300 illnesses Uganda.