Professors to develop hand-held pathogen testing device

Dec 18, 2006

Testing for deadly food, air and water pathogens may get a lot easier and cheaper thanks to the work of a Michigan State University researcher and his team.

Syed Hashsham, an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Center for Microbial Ecology, is developing a portable, hand-held device capable of detecting up to 50 microbial threat agents in air, water and food.

"This device will give us the ability to measure pathogens in a manner and at a price that really matters for human health," Hashsham said. "If we can screen for all pathogens together, we can minimize the threat significantly."

Hashsham intends for the portable, hand-held device to be an all-in-one pathogen testing center where DNA amplification and pathogen identification will happen on the same DNA biochip. A DNA biochip has signature pieces of DNA attached to a silica surface, similar to a computer chip, and is about the size of a thumbnail.

Today, testing air, water or food for pathogens like cholera and dysentery must be done one pathogen at a time. Testing for each pathogen on an individual basis is dangerous, more expensive and time consuming. Simultaneous testing simplifies the process, making it safer and more cost effective.

Earlier this year, Hashsham was awarded $966,608 from the 21st Century Jobs Fund to develop and commercialize the device.

Hashsham, James Tiedje, University Distinguished Professor of crop and soil sciences and director of the Center for Microbial Ecology, and Erdogan Gulari, professor at the University of Michigan's Department of Chemical Engineering, formed a cross-disciplinary team to develop this technology.

The procedure begins with sample processing that extracts DNA from all microorganisms present in the sample. The DNA can then be introduced into the device where it will undergo polymerase chain reaction for the selected harmful pathogens. Polymerase chain reaction is a process that takes a small amount of DNA and makes billions of copies so the pathogens can be easily detected, Hashsham explained.

Most of the genetic material in any bacteria isn't harmful. For instance, the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, responsible for the waterborne illness cholera, has many housekeeping genes that maintain the organism, but are not dangerous to humans by themselves. But the gene producing the cholera toxin is harmful. These genes serve as good markers for detection. Hashsham's device will be designed to look for such marker genes.

"This technology is rugged and highly parallel; it can analyze lots of marker genes in a lot of samples, together with significantly lower false positives," Hashsham said.

He said the hand-held testing device could be used anywhere that cost-effective testing of food, water or air is needed for a number of pathogens.

"Because of the lower cost, there also will be applications in countries where fewer resources are available for drinking water safety," Hashsham said.

Looking toward the future, Hashsham has been in touch with several organizations that might be interested in the device. AquaBioChip LLC, a Lansing-based company formed by the same team through a previous grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., will test the device under field conditions.

He has a team of six graduate students and technicians working on this device. "They are the heart of the project as well as the scientists being trained for the future," Hashsham said. That number of employees is likely to increase when the device gets to the commercialization stage.

Source: Michigan State University

Explore further: Automakers hire rocket firm to probe air bag problems

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

French minister meets with Google, Facebook, Twitter

11 hours ago

The French interior minister is meeting with representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter to encourage them to join the European Union in its fight against propaganda disseminated online by terrorist ...

Ancient and modern cities aren't so different

11 hours ago

Despite notable differences in appearance and governance, ancient human settlements function in much the same way as modern cities, according to new findings by researchers at the Santa Fe Institute and the ...

Recommended for you

Florentine basilica gets high-tech physical

15 hours ago

Late last year, two University of California, San Diego students set out for Florence, Italy, to diagnose a patient that had no prior medical record, couldn't be poked or prodded in any way, and hadn't been ...

Radar sensors support parking management

16 hours ago

Siemens is researching the use of sensor networks in an advanced parking management solution that will hopefully counter the increasing parking space crisis in cities. The online magazine Pictures of the ...

SatisFactory project for more attractive factories launched

16 hours ago

Known as either "Industrial Revolution 4.0" or as "Industrial Renaissance", the need for visionary industrial approaches is widely recognized in the European Union. SatisFactory, a three-year research project funded by the ...

Life-saving train design is rarely used

Feb 25, 2015

(AP)—Nearly a decade ago, the U.S. secretary of transportation stood at the site of a horrendous commuter train crash near downtown Los Angeles and called for the adoption of a new train car design that ...

Lexus tops auto dependability survey

Feb 25, 2015

(AP)—Lexus is the most dependable car brand for the fourth consecutive year in rankings that increasingly hinge on high-tech features.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.