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New Biosensor Speeds Up Pathogen Detection in Food

A new biosensor designed by a US university may be able to detect pathogens in food more efficiently than ever before.

Developed by scientists at Rice University in collaboration with colleagues in Ireland and Thailand, the biosensor has been outperforming tests that are considered standard in the food industry by speeding up the testing time from days to minutes.

The process delivers results from a platform that can be cleaned and reused, and according to the researchers, the technology can be easily customised to detect any type of bacteria as well as different strains of the same bacterium.

The system employs a set of mircocantilevers which have been decorated with different peptides that demonstrate unique binding affinities to varied strains of salmonella. Once a peptide catches a bacterium, the cantilever bends due to a mismatch in surface stress. A fine laser on the mechanism will then capture the change in the surface and trigger the alarm.

Researchers at Rice compared the performance of peptide performance against that of commercial antibodies currently used for salmonella detection and found that not only were the peptides more sensitive in detecting pathogens, but the microcantilevers could also detect many different strains of salmonella at once.

Biomolecular engineer at Rice, Sibani Lais Biswal was encouraged by old class mate and head of the microarray laboratory at the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in Thailand, Nitsara Karoonuthaisiri, to use the university’s mircocantilevers together with peptides.

“She’s (Karoonuthaisiri) been working in this area of pathogenic bacteria and asked if we have thought about trying to use our microcantilevers for detection,” said Biswal. “Specifically, she wanted to know if we could try these novel peptides.”

Biswal says that peptides proved to be ideal at detecting pathogens as they can effectively handle harsh conditions, and do not break down as easily as antibodies.

“We’re very excited to see where this will lead,” said Biswal.

The full study, Rapid Detection of Pathogenic Bacteria and Screening of Phage-Derived Peptides Using Microcantilevers is now available online in the American Chemical Society journal, Analytical Chemistry.

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