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Scientists say fish embryo test can screen more than 1,000 toxins at one time

By Michelle Yeomans+

19-Mar-2015

Fish embryos become fluorescent in the presence of toxins
Fish embryos become fluorescent in the presence of toxins

Hong Kong based biotech company, Vitargent has developed a technology that uses fish embryos to test for toxic substances in everything from cosmetics to food. 

The scientists claim that the technology can screen for more than 1,000 toxins at one time, compared to five to 10 toxins for existing tests, which has seen it gain major investment from US based venture capital firm, WI Harper Group.

“[Our] technologies are much more comprehensive, effective and rigorous compared with the traditional testing methods,” executive director Eric Chen told The South China Morning Post.

A product of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park incubator programme, Vitargent’s method uses specially designed fish embryos, some of which turn fluorescent in the presence of certain toxins.

Vitargent hopes to become the standard for safety testing

"The fish used have a DNA structure very similar to our own," Chen tells the regional publication, meaning that they are susceptible to the same toxins and chemicals.

The biotech company says it eventually hopes to become the standard for safety testing in the region, conducting testing itself in-house, as well as licensing its technology to manufacturers.

They will still have to send samples to us, even if they pass internal testing before they can display the company’s fish logo on their products however," says managing director Jimmy Tao.

“Hong Kong is in a unique position to drive this change,” adds Tao, because of the city’s reputation for strict standards in comparison to the mainland.

Fish found to offer many benefits in cosmetics

In Europe, new industrial processing techniques are being developed to obtain valuable proteins, antioxidants and oils from salmon and rapeseed waste that can then be used in skin care products. 

The work to turn these extracts into skin care components is currently being carried out by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Spain.

Linked to stable nanoparticles, the extracts can remove odours from fish raw materials, and the golden-brown colouring from rapeseed extracts; which is vital if the products are intended for the cosmetics market.

The next step is to incorporate the fish and rape seed extracts into cosmetic products, which Spanish company TrueCosmetics intends to use as a foundation for one of its creams.

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