Encouraged by Chinese and Japanese brewers’ use of its array-based kits to monitor bacteria during the beer-making process, Taiwan-based DR. Chip is hoping to branch out into the European beer market sometime this year, according to the firm’s CEO.
Sino Wang told BioArray News this month that two undisclosed breweries in China and Japan have tested its DR. Brewery Chip, which is still a mostly unknown new product in Europe.
He said the Chinese company has been using the array-based screening method since the fourth quarter of 2007, while local regulations require the Japanese firm to wait two more years before it can officially use the product. The company continues to court Asian breweries as well, Wang said.
DR. Chip believes that breweries will increasingly eschew older technologies used to monitor bacteria, such as RT-PCR assays or culture, in favor of its low-density arrays, which are designed to detect 12 different bacteria in a single sample.
The company hopes the next adopters will be found in the European market, where bacterial contamination forces brewers to dump 5 percent to 6 percent of their beer each year.
“The DR. Brewery platform can help breweries to speed up their quality-control activities, achieve low wastage, and keep [consistent] beer flavor,” said Wang. “We are contacting … European brewery companies, [and] I hope by the end of this year [that] we will be able to copy this model to a European brand name.”
DR. Chip already has several European distributors in place, the largest of which is Paris-based microbiology reagents company AES Chemunex, Wang said. DR. Chip hopes to use these distributors to drum up interest among brewers on the continent.
DR. Chip’s array technology differs slightly from traditional arrays: Rather than printing on nitrocellulose or glass, DR. Chip prints its arrays on a plastic substrate that Wang claims reduces cost.
The chips are designed to work with the firm’s DR. Array in Microtiterplate (AiM) system, which includes a mini-oven for controlling temperature during hybridization; a fluidics station for auto-washing and color development; and a reader and internally developed analysis software. DR. AiM can process 96 samples at a time in a single sample and provides results within six hours, according to the company.
Wang noted that breweries typically have to perform fermentation for up to 38 days. If foreign bacteria enter the process they can render unusable an entire tank of beer in two days.
“Since each ton is the equivalent of around 1,600 bottles of beer, you can imagine that they have to dump or waste millions of bottles of beer.”
“The brewery industry has developed for over 100 years and they use a culture method to monitor bacteria during brewery processes,” Wang said. “They use a culture medium, put the processed liquid into the medium, and have to wait for two weeks to see whether the liquid is contaminated or not,” he said. “If the culture result is positive, that means that the material has existed in liquid for two weeks. In this case, most of the … breweries will dump the liquid and lose their money.”
Wang said that, on average, breweries in China dump about 8 percent to 10 percent of their annual capacity. In Japan, breweries dump around 3 percent. By comparison, European beer makers typically dump about 5 percent to 6 percent.
“It depends on different companies,” said Wang. “In our [Chinese] customer’s case, they have dumped 400,000 tons per year. Since each ton is the equivalent of around 1,600 bottles of beer, you can imagine that they have to dump or waste millions of bottles of beer. So this is a big issue for most of the brewery companies,” he said.
To address this issue, DR. Chip began developing the DR. Brewery Kit in 2004 with its Japanese partner and subsequently validated it with a large undisclosed Chinese brewery that Wang called one of the “top three” in the country. The top three breweries in China are currently Tsingtao, Yanjing, and Zhujiang.
Wang said that the Chinese partner ran an internal comparison study and elected to use DR. Chip’s arrays in its brewing process at the end of last year. “For the first two quarters of this year, according to internal information, they did not dump any liquid in their main brewery site,” Wang said. He added that once regulations allow, DR. Chip’s Japanese partner is also likely to introduce DR. Brewery on-site.
Chips and Beer
DR. Chip’s goal to lure breweries to abandon culture for arrays has been an uphill fight so far, according to Wang, who said that the company has encountered resistance from breweries that have dumped the culture method for RT-PCR assays.
For example, in April Germany’s Merck obtained a worldwide license from Biotecon Diagnostics to sell its RT-PCR for monitoring beer bacteria. According to Merck, the so-called foodproof Beer Screening kit detects more than 25 bacteria known to contaminate beer. Additionally the kit was developed and validated in cooperation with large German breweries, Merck said.
Wang dismissed the use of RT-PCR in the beer monitoring process, saying that the technology “can only identify one or two bacteria in a test.” He said that breweries using RT-PCR would have to run six assays to get the same result that one DR. Brewery test provides and added that DR. Chip has configured its DR. AiM system to perform in a high-throughput manner comparable to RT-PCR systems.
“Normally, a regular-sized brewery plant needs to [run] about 100 tests per day” to detect bad bacteria, he said. “For that reason, [the] DR. Brewery kit is designed in [an] ELISA 96-well format and [includes the] DR. AiM platform that can easy handle up to 100 tests per day. That is an advantage our competitor cannot achieve.”
Wang also said that Dr. AiM can be integrated to work with a typical PCR machine for those companies that have invested in a PCR set-up.
While the DR. Brewery kit is DR. Chip’s flagship product, the 10-year-old company also markets other assays, such as the DR. Food chip, which identifies 10 food-borne pathogens in one test.
It also markets two in vitro diagnostics that have received CE Marks in Europe: The DR. MTBC Chip detects Mycobacterium tuberculosis and DR. HPV chip identifies 19 subtypes of human papillomavirus, including two low-risk and 17 high-risk strains. Like the Brewery kit, both IVDs are intended to replace older, lower-throughput technologies, like culture or RT-PCR.
“To date, we have developed around 40 different applications on [the] DR. AiM platform … for human or non-human purposes like the brewery chip,” Wang said. “For different industries, they can adopt different versions of the chip-plate to screen their targeted pathogens or virus.”