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Present with its innovative kits in 40 countries, the enterprise of the AREA Science park develops analysis systems for food supply chain safety 

Tecna celebrates twenty years in the sector of food and feed diagnostics

29.11.2014 -

In 1994 the definition of start-up was not as popular as it is today but would have been perfectly suited for Tecna Srl, that at the time was taking its first steps at the AREA Science Park in Trieste. Founded by a small group of chemists and biologists with several years' industrial experience in the field of immunodiagnostics, the entrepreneurial venture started with the development of methods to detect and measure drug residues in food.


Since 2000 the company has extended its activity to the detection and measurement of mycotoxins, and then moved onto the development of kits for allergens. In these years Tecna has become leader both in Italy and overseas in the market of diagnostic kits for the analysis of chemical contaminants in food and feed material. Today it employs 25 staff, has a turnover of € 2.3 million, a growth of 14% on 2012. It is present with its products in 40 countries and, last year, its exports accounted for 35% of its revenues.


A safe food supply chain


Thanks to the progress made by scientific research, many sources of food pollutants are now known and well identified. They are partly of natural origin, partly due to industrial processes or the use of drugs or pesticides in breeding farms and crops, as well as to polluting phenomena due to the use of substances that mask food adulterations. Detecting such substances through cost-effective and reliable kits is imperative to guarantee the health of ingredients, food and feed material.


Tecna products are manufactured using immunochemistry technology, but over the last twenty years the company has undergone considerable change in terms of evolution and diversification of technology and format.  Tecna has mainly developed microplate kits (ELISA), aimed at structures with laboratories equipped with a considerable degree of know how. Over the years it has tried to release new versions of faster and faster ELISA kits, that are more user-friendly and cost effective in terms of format, offering a screening tool that can be directly used by manufacturing companies or small laboratories.


An example of this evolution is B ZERO AFLA M1, a revolutionary ELISA kit for the analysis of aflatoxin M1 present in milk, fine-tuned by Tecna researchers in the summer of 2014. It is the first microplate kit that enables the direct analysis of milk, without the need to prepare samples, thus representing a considerable advantage in terms of time and cost of material for the analysts, as well as a reduction in sources of error due to the manipulation of samples. As opposed to the other kits available on the market, B ZERO AFLA M1 cuts analysis time by 50% and allows for quantitative results in just 30 minutes. The considerable time saved is matched by significant cost savings, thanks to a format that requires calibration. The extremely high quality of the reagents is such that the test can provide quantitative data without resorting to standard solutions.

New technological challenges


Besides the tests made using the microplate, in recent years Tecna has faced a new technological challenge, starting to use the so-called "dry chemistry" to develop "self-monitoring" tests similar to common pregnancy tests. These tests, defined "lateral flow" or more simply "strips", are aimed at non-professional users and are characterised by very fast response: only few minutes to check goods being delivered to decide whether to (i) accept receipt of such goods and authorise their unloading or (ii) reject them. This testing technology is surely very interesting for the analysis of mycotoxins, as it basically does not require either specific equipment or training in the analytical field.


It was a major challenge for Tecna: the transfer of the know how gained and consolidated for the ELISA to the new "lateral flow" format has been a process that has involved researchers for several years. Last May Tecna managed to launch the Smart Strip DON, a strip for the detection of deoxynivalenol in cereals, a result also achieved thanks to the contribution of Community funds granted by the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region under the POR-FESR Program. With Smart Strip DON this mycotoxin, that was quite widespread in Italian corn crop in 2014, can be detected and measured in just 10 minutes. The Smart Strip is gradually adding new products that have recently entered or are about to enter the International market, such as Smart Strip AFLA B1, released at the end of October, that allows to detect the dangerous aflatoxin B1 present in corn, still in just 10 minutes.




In the year in which it celebrates twenty years of activity, Tecna looks at the horizon ahead for the next 20 years. "The market demands more and more product differentiation - explains Maurizio Paleologo, Chairman and General Manager of Tecna -. Companies like Tecna must be ready to take up the challenge and develop new responses to meet different needs. For the future I can imagine a considerable increase in interest for faster methods using strips, tools that might also reach the world's poorest countries, where the fight against contamination by mycotoxins cannot rely on the use of expensive, sophisticated, complex and slow tests.


On the technological plane, the next challenge instead will be compacting several tests in the same diagnostic screening system. In other words, it will be necessary to develop revolutionary platforms that enable to acquire a greater amount of information about the potential chemical contaminations for the same sample of cereal, milk or meat.  A multi-testing platform would enable the exploitation of the sample collected, a reduction in testing time and the ability to access more information on the actual hazardousness of what we eat".