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Biosensor for a safer potato

Under a certain set of conditions, the seemingly innocuous cooked potato can contain acrylamide. European researchers have developed a biosensor to alert growers and producers to the presence of glucose, a precursor of this toxin.
Biosensor for a safer potato
Research has discovered that eating a plate of chips, a bag of crisps or a baked potato may not be as safe as once assumed. It's all down to chemistry – a so-called reducing sugar and an amino acid, asparagine, heated together can produce acrylamide, a neurotoxin with genotoxic and carcinogenic properties. All these ingredients may be in a potato.

One answer to the problem is based on the fact that reducing sugar levels vary widely depending on the harvesting and storage conditions – from 0.1 mg to 10 mg per gramme of potato. The EU-funded Reflab project aimed to help potato growers and processors avoid the deadly combination. Project scientists have developed a glucose biosensor to test raw potatoes.

The new Reflab biosensor is designed with the biochemistry of the potato in mind. The reading gives an indication of how much acrylamide would be produced on frying or baking. Sensitivity is high and the nicotinamide adenine dincucleotide (NAD)H-based biosensor can detect sugars as low as 0.02 g per litre in a temperature range of 20–80 ˚C.

Both vitamin C and phenolics (caffeic acid for example, which discourages water retention) can be found in potatoes. These compounds can tend to be oxidised and potentially interfere with the reading. One of the best features of the sensor is that it can work both in oxidative or reductive conditions and avoid this scenario.

From a business point of view, manufacturing potential has been tested and the research partners were able to make 1,000 sensors per day. A project website and flyer are available for further information about the success of the Reflab sensor. Reflab partners are of the opinion that the sensor has a commercial future and are researching best possible promotional angles to sell to growers and processors.

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