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Little Rock Firm Develops Rapid Test for E. coli

Preliminary tests by scientists at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture’s Center for Food Safety and a federal agency have confirmed that a technology developed by the center’s industry collaborator, Litmus Rapid-B LLC (LRB), will provide a significant improvement over current conventional methods for detecting pathogenic E. coli bacteria.

LRB’s detection technology was validated by a lab of the federal Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Emergency Response Network (FERN). The tests by the university scientists confirmed the performance claims by LRB, and also mirrored the FDA FERN lab’s data that previously supported LRB’s claims of speed and accuracy.

“The significant improvement in speed and accuracy by LRB could improve detection and allow protocols to shift to more proactive testing for E. coli,” said Steven Ricke, director of the Center for Food Safety.”Accurate results are provided in five hours rather than eight to 24 hours for other rapid methods,” he said.

LRB, a Little Rock-based biotechnology company, developed its technology in a collaboration with the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR), an agency of the FDA based in Jefferson, Ark. “The Center for Food Safety is excited about the possibility of nurturing an Arkansas-based and derived technology that will lead to the employment of University of Arkansas graduates,” Ricke said.

Based on the confirmation of LRB’s performance claims for testing E. coli, the center will also begin work to confirm the company’s performance claims and protocols for Salmonella and a total plate count (TPC) assay for environmental samples.

The center is also seeking resources to add LRB to research on a previously unknown strain of E. coli found recently in Germany that has sickened thousands and killed dozens. The new strain, known as E. coli O104:H4, may be more potent than longer known strains of the bacterium. Outbreaks of illness from the strain have been limited to Europe to date.

Ricke said the center will seek resources to add LRB’s system to its research into shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) strains other than the well-known pathogenic E. coli O157:H7. The STEC bacteria can cause illness ranging from mild intestinal disease to severe kidney complications. The center will also study the use of the LRB system as a rapid screening tool for Non 0157 STEC E. coli strains and to process the results by other methods to determine their typing for pathogenicity.

“The collaboration with LRB will allow the Center for Food Safety to continue its tradition of introducing novel technologies and protocols to the food processing industry,” Ricke said. In addition to improving prospects for food safety, Ricke said, the collaboration with LRB helps the Division of Agriculture in its long-standing drive to improve economic development in Arkansas.

Students in the food science undergraduate and graduate degree programs in the university’s Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences participate in Center for Food Safety research, which has been enhanced by LRB system equipment.

Recently, LITMUS RAPID-B LLC entered into a collaboration with the Center for Food Safety to improve identification of foodborne bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella throughout processing and distribution points.

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