Pathogens… Just the word causes fear among
anyone who knows what they are. And in short, they’re something we all want to
avoid. We recently got the chance to talk with Milan Patel, Co-founder and CEO
of PathogenDx, a Scottsdale, AZ based company which has developed a disruptive
technology: DNA-based testing for cannabis as well as other industries.
Check out the interview below to learn more
about this technology and what it means for cannabis growers and consumers.
CM: What is
PathogenDx – in one sentence, and then in depth? What is the technology in
Patel: In one sentence, PathogenDx is an Arizona biotechnology
company that has developed a disruptive DNA-based technology to test for
multiple pathogens (bacterial and fungal organisms that cause contamination) in
a fraction of the time, cost and labor to ensure cannabis, hemp, food, ag, and
water is safe for consumption.
The world is filled with
harmful pathogens that increasingly threaten the safety of our cannabis, hemp,
food and water supply. And yet, testing labs still rely on the Petri dishes scientists
invented over a century ago. At PathogenDx, microbial testing has now been
brought into the modern age. The company’s patent-winning scientists have
invented a game-changing DNA-based microarray technology (see image below) that
accelerates the testing identification and quantification of microbes (from
E-coli to powdery mildew)—delivering accurate results in just six hours without
the need for enrichment or DNA purification. The company entered the Cannabis
market to demonstrate the power of the Ultra-rapid DNA microarray to prove the
capability of delivering the fastest microbial test in the cannabis sector
while meeting the safety testing regulations.
CM: The major
tool in testing has always been the Petri dish – why change that now? How does DNA
come into play?
Patel: The Petri dish has been around for 140 years. However, testing results
take quite long because with a Petri dish, you have to take a sample, enrich
any bacterial or fungal organisms in that sample, streak it on an agar culture
and wait for the cells of the bacterial or fungal pathogens to grow before you
get a result. This can take anywhere from 3 days up to 7 days. When you have a
lot of samples coming into a lab, it can be very unwieldy.
Why change now? – The supply chain of
cannabis, hemp, food, agriculture and water is more efficient now, and with the
product moving through the supply chain much faster to the end customer, the
risk is higher because a potential contaminated food is likely to get consumed
before results are obtained from petri dish testing. This is evident by the
continued increases in food borne outbreaks in the last 2-3 decades, and recent
examples are the food borne outbreaks at Chipotle and the Romaine lettuce
incident. Basically a 19th century solution cannot meet the needs
and demands of these markets, and a 21st century solution is needed
whereby results are delivered faster before contaminated end product gets
How does DNA come into play? – DNA comes
into play because the methodology by which the process works is different in
that it is a targeted approach: you do not have to wait for the actual pathogen
cells to grow, you are able to identify that the product is contaminated at the
molecular level, and you can get a result in hours.
CM: What are
the biggest threats facing farmers and their cannabis/hemp crops right
Patel: The biggest threats facing farmers and their cannabis/hemp crops is
continual contamination within grows with a high level of presence of both
bacterial and fungal microbes in the end sample. In addition, we are starting
to see increased presence of viruses – especially for hemp farmers – which is
wreaking havoc as petri dish testing cannot test for viruses. This results in
catastrophic losses both from an economic standpoint, as well as yield
CM: Even though
PathogenDx was developed for hemp and cannabis, you say it can be used to
test other agricultural crops, water, even meat and dairy areas. Will the same
test and procedure be used for different things; what else does PathogenDx need
to do to enter the Food and Dairy sphere?
Patel: We have made the technology universally applicable to multiple markets
as well as ubiquitous, in that at the base level, it is one process. Whether
you are testing cannabis, romaine, milk, water or anything else, the process is
effectively the same. The content of the kits are mostly the same, but
sometimes enhanced with different bacterial or fungal organisms that are
specific to that industry.
currently submitting the use of the technology as a certified method to the
AOAC for food and environmental testing at the federal level. We expect to have
certification by mid-2020, and once that happens, PathogenDx will have access
to a $30B market. In addition, we are developing a test that can test up to 20
pathogens that are currently causing quality issues in the milk and dairy
industry. We plan to introduce a product in 2020 for this market.
CM: What’s next
for PathogenDx in 2020? Where else do you see application of this technology?
Patel: We are expanding the applications of the technology into the Food,
Environmental, Dairy markets, as well as introducing a plant pathogen kit that
will broaden the testing capability in cannabis, hemp and Agriculture. The technology has potential into the much larger clinical
diagnostics with a multitude of clinical applications. At the present time, the
company is working with several collaborators to evaluate key market