Print 10 comment(s) - last by oTAL.. on Jul 4 at 6:30 AM

Current poultry plants, like the one shown here, have some inspection for visible damage or bacterial growth, but have virtually no on-site tests for pathogens. There are many sources of such pathogens at the farm, slaughterhouse, and processing plant. The new chip will detect contaminated cuts on site.  (Source:
New system promises to help fight disease outbreaks

Bacterial outbreaks, most recently with contaminated tomatoes, have sent many to the hospital, even killing a few.  In more trite terms of losses, they have robbed us of many of our mealtime staples, thanks to temporary restrictions on sales. 

Farmers rue these losses -- no spinach, no tomatoes for months at a time -- as much as or more than consumers.  After all, the crops are their livelihood and when they're pulled off the market, even government relief programs can't help the farmers recoup their massive financial losses.

Now cutting edge electronics are hoping to both protect the consumer's health and their palate, which should bring relief to farmers.  European researchers have developed a prototype lab-on-a-chip test system, which tests food on-site in less than an hour for campylobacter and salmonella.  Most food poisoning cases come from these two bacteria.

The new test chip uses microelectromechanical systems including sensors, fluid channels, and optical components.  The chip is only one of two such systems known to exist in the world.  The goals of the project responsible, the European Union-funded OptoCard project, is three-fold.  Its goals are to detect pathogens in the food supply, develop chips to detect pathogens and contaminants in water supplies, and finally develop chips to test human blood for cancer, hepatitis, AIDS and flu.  Jesús M Ruano-López, coordinator of the OptoLabCard project at Ikerlan-IK4 in Spain stated, "The uses for these devices are almost endless… and the market is huge."

While all of these tests are available, currently they require samples to be sent to the lab and processed.  This processing is a lengthy process and can take days between the transportation and the analysis on antiquated systems.

Different from previous lab-on-a-chip attempts, the new chip adopts several key technologies.  First it ditches specialize materials, forming most of its components from a single thick negative photoresist layer.  This allows for cheaper, easier to produce chips.  Additionally, the chip is disposable -- the expensive optics and electronics are in the supporting reader or base unit.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough is in the chip design's sample preparation.  If a piece of pork containing salmonella was swabbed, only a dozen bacteria might be picked up and past designs would declare it clean.  The new chip uses the much used magnetophoresis and the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique to replicate bacterial DNA thousands of times.  Ruano-López explained, "By using PCR for sample preparation we can create more concentrated bacteria samples, and because it works with DNA it means that the same device can be used to detect many different types of bacteria and diseases."

The chip’s first real field test will come as it will soon be deployed in Denmark at poultry farms.  Dang Duong Bang, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research who will conduct the trial, is pleased that the chip detects campylobacter as it is one of the most prevalent bacteria in poultry.  He added, "If the device works as promised and leads to commercial products it will offer major benefits for farmers, processors and especially consumers."

He points out that infections from the bacteria cause close to $1B USD in treatment costs in the U.S. and $300M USD in Britain a year.  By reducing the number of infected animals reaching the market with field tests, great cost savings would be achieved. Ruano-López predicts commercial prototypes to be available within 3 years.

A spin-off company, named microLIQUID, has also been created to market the tech from the project.  The partners of the project have also commenced a new project, LabOnFoil, which aims to replace silicon with thin foils in testing systems.  The hope is that these efforts will bring the cost down by a factor of ten, down to about 50 cents a test.  This would allow for skin patches to monitor disease, contamination and drug abuse.

The new research promises to become a ubiquitous component in industries worldwide.  While the average consumer likely holds little interest in the technical details, they will appreciate the benefits -- less food poisoning, and less food recalls.

Funding for OptoLabCard was provided by the EU's Sixth Framework Programme for research, while LabOnFoil is being funded by the Seventh Framework Programme.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By Natfly on 7/3/2008 10:34:56 AM , Rating: 3
"July 2, 2008 10:24 AM"

You guys seriously need to work on your dating system. Posting articles dated yesterday screws up the rss feed and the listing on the site. Often, newly posted articles/stories have dates/times older than others previously posted, causing them to be out of order and sometimes show up without the 'New!' tag.

RE: Dates
By Brandon Hill on 7/3/2008 10:51:06 AM , Rating: 2
It was a simple mistake that was corrected. It wasn't caught right away b/c the article was still listed at the top of the left column -- the last article posted in that column was posted at 10:03AM on July 2.

RE: Dates
By Natfly on 7/3/2008 11:36:26 AM , Rating: 2
I was addressing an overall problem that I see frequently, articles do get posted often with times sometimes hours ago.

By GroBemaus on 7/3/08, Rating: 0
RE: Grammer?
By zagood1 on 7/3/2008 7:57:33 PM , Rating: 2
Am I the only one who has noticed the decline of spelling in the DT comments?
I'm not really a grammer cop

Are you guys writing these really late and then not checking over them. I'm not really a spelling cop, it's just something I've noticed of late.

RE: Grammer?
By oTAL on 7/4/2008 6:30:45 AM , Rating: 2
No decline...
It's always pretty been bad ;)

a step forward.
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 7/3/2008 11:25:33 AM , Rating: 3
He points out that infections from the bacteria cause close to $1B USD in treatment costs in the U.S. and $300M USD in Britain a year.

Well a doctor needs to make an income too.... :)

Anything that helps detect bacterial outbreaks is a good thing (if it works of course). However, something that would be helpful at least in the USA, when we import foods make them pass the same test (quality controls) that the USA farmers must pass. It boggles the mind to think imports have a different and lower level of quality control. If you have noticed, most of the breakouts have come from foods imported into the USA. I'm sure other countries have similar situations.

50 cent drug testing
By OxBow on 7/3/2008 1:21:15 PM , Rating: 2
I'm thrilled by the idea of more efficient inspections of our food supply. That can only serve to help everyone.

They also mentioned using a spin off of this for drug testing. That could change many workplaces drastically. One of the major drawbacks for drug testing is the cost. If the tests were 50 cents a pop, many employers could test their employees weekly or daily. A simple, automated drug test would revolutionize human resources departments. I'm not saying that it would be for the better or not, but there's no doubt that it would change things.

Longer lasting.
By excelsium on 7/3/2008 3:09:24 PM , Rating: 2
How about a system that moisturizes, detects and kills bacteria so we can do away with preservatives and so I don't have to go buy groceries so often :].

E. coli?
By Malhavoc on 7/3/2008 4:10:55 PM , Rating: 2
A test like this for E. coli would be much more interesting to most farmers. Salmonella and campylobacter much less common in produce.

Sure there was a recent outbreak with salmonella and tomatoes, but that is was a rarity.

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki