Pig, cow or vegetable? USM test gets it right

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

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

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.