Basque researchers hone rapid pathogen detection

The Basque researchers said their detection tool could be developed to identify a range of pathogen strains

Rapid diagnosis tools to identify germs on the production line are being developed by scientists at the Basque CIC microGUNE cooperative research centre.

They are using the PREDETEC project to develop methods for identifying specific strains of pathogens, as well as general types, with trials so far focusing on Campylobacter jejuni.

In addition, those conducting the tests say they could be broadened to identify other forms of pathogens, such as Salmonella and E.coli, or viruses.

The tools being explored at the moment are based partly on electrochemical detection incorporated into a ‘lab-on-a-chip’.

Able to discover very small amounts

The scientists are also investigating the use of localized surface plasmon resonance, an optical technique based on the study of light transmission through small apertures on a scale of a few hundred nanometers. This is able to discover very small amounts of harmful substances being sought, they claim.

“We are seeking to create a low-cost technology made from disposable materials and that can be applied to food production lines, for example, without the need to transport the sample to a laboratory,” said Sergio Arana, one of the lead researchers of the project.

Funding is now being sought to develop a prototype device, which the researchers expect to be ready by the end of 2013, ready for trials in 2014. The plan is to begin production in 2015.

Single device

“The objective of the project is to incorporate all of the technology necessary to analyse the food sample into a single device and to detect possible pathogens present in situ rapidly and easily,” Basque CIC microGUNE states.

“It should be highlighted that the use of this system, still at the development stage, will have a clear social impact in enhancing food safety, given that it will greatly facilitate locating points of contamination.

“This advance will also contribute to reducing health costs arising from outbreaks of food poisoning, due to its preventative nature.”

The researchers said there was an urgent need to develop such rapid pathogen detection at source, driven by factors increasing the risk of their transmission. These included the proliferation of intensive methods of food production and an increase in distances for transporting food and storage times.

  • Separately, life sciences firm Merck Millipore has launched EZ-Fluo, a non-fluorescent rapid detection system based on membrane filtration to pinpoint contamination from harmful microorganisms in beverages by staining the germs. The company claims the system slashes traditional detection time by two thirds and unlike previous tools does not destroy microbes, so specific types can be identified from the same samples used to detect them. The new tool can be used to detect germs, yeasts and moulds, said the firm, which is based in Billerica, Massachusetts in the US.

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