Print 13 comment(s) - last by ekv.. on Feb 20 at 6:41 PM

New lab-on-a-chip promises to detect pollutants, disease, and biological weapons

Israel, for a very small nation, is always on the cutting edge of military research.  Researchers at Tel Aviv University have developed a new lab-on-a-chip, which may be put to use in a variety of military, security, and medical applications. 

The researchers say that animals have always been the first line of detection for toxins and pollutants, and that even today man-made detection devices fall short of nature's mechanisms.  However, they say their device, the latest entry in the burgeoning field of labs-on-a-chip, may change that by borrowing from nature itself.

The new chips uses tiny light emitting bacteria affixed to the chip's surface.  Prof. Shacham-Diamand describes, “We’ve developed a platform — essentially a micro-sized, quarter-inch square 'lab' — employing genetically engineered bacteria that light up when presented with a stressor in water.”

The chip has tiny light detectors that can tell if the bacteria is lighting up, signaling detection of the target chemical.

As opposed to animal detection, Professor Shacham-Diamand states that his team's design is much safer and more effective.  He adds, "Our system is based on a plastic chip that is more humane, much faster, more sensitive and much cheaper.  Basically, ours is an innovative advance in the ‘lab on a chip’ system.  It’s an ingenious nano-scale platform designed to get information out of biological events. Our solution can monitor water with never-before-achieved levels of accuracy. But as a platform, it can also be used for unlimited purposes, such as investigating stem cell therapies or treating cancer."

The university is currently tweaking its water-testing mini-labs to measure the response of various strains of genetically engineered bacteria to toxins or pathogens in the water, such as E. Coli bacteria.  The state of Hawaii and multiple cities in Israel have expressed interest in the project.

The researchers are also engineering bacteria which detect biological weapons.  This line of work is funded by a United States Department of Defense Projects Agency (DARPA) to the tune of $3M USD. 

A third line of work is cancer detection.  Professor Shacham-Diamand presented his research to 400 physicians at a World Cancer Conference recently, and is now collaborating with them to develop new bacteria chips to test for cancer indicators.  He states, "They need sensors like Tel Aviv University’s lab on a chip. It’s a hot topic now."

Whether it comes to medicine or to the military, the new living lab-on-a-chip seems to have great potential to create cutting edge sensors.

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By Moishe on 2/20/2009 8:48:32 AM , Rating: 1
That's pretty ingenious.

It almost sounds like you'd need one chip for each target material...? Surely not. If you can just use one chip to target all known bad particles then they should put those chips everywhere and hook them up to a monitored system.

RE: well...
By Steve1981 on 2/20/2009 8:51:54 AM , Rating: 2
Certainly seems like a good way to monitor our water supply.

RE: well...
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 2/20/2009 10:20:19 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, you are correct. The portable version is called a Triquarter. They are very handy.

RE: well...
By ekv on 2/20/2009 6:41:46 PM , Rating: 3
uh, excuse me, but did you mean a Tricorder ?

RE: well...
By grath on 2/20/2009 11:40:34 AM , Rating: 2
It almost sounds like you'd need one chip for each target material...?

They probably still do. These are genetically engineered bacteria they are using, and its probably much easier to engineer them to detect a single agent, or a group of similar agent, rather than every agent. Trying to engineer a strain that detects everything would probably generate false positives, be much more expensive, and be harder to upgrade for new threats.

I wish..
By theArchMichael on 2/20/2009 8:54:27 AM , Rating: 2
I think it's Israel's strong respect for education especially higher education and white collar training that is the cause of their success. Well that and the billions of dollars of private investment into the tech industry in that nation.

Nonetheless, I applaud their success and hope we can rejuvenate our education system here in the US so that we can one day have an economy primarily led by invention and ingenuity.

Back on topic, I saw another article on dailytech discussing some sort of miniaturized magnetic resonance imaging chip. Maybe soon we'll have a Star Trek handheld gadget that does all that stuff, it'll be great for our first away mission!

RE: I wish..
By StrayGator on 2/20/2009 9:48:56 AM , Rating: 4
and I wish Israel's respect for education would be as strong as it seems from outside.
Our education system (be it elemantary, post-grad and anything between) is not well-funded as you'd think (of course, to some point it never is. that's not what i mean). our literacy percentage is below USA/Europe (average) and currently on a negative trend i'm afraid.
Personally, what drove me to TAU was not my school ("yeshiva"/orthodox-high. don't ask), but my folks and childhood neighborhood's atmosphere.

Our drive to achievments comes from general positive opinion towards high education, a "national ethos" if you like (man, did I really just say that?). not because it's easier or more available here than anywhere else.
for similar reason, we have waaay too many lawyers.

as for the focus on military technology, it's quite a matter of necessity. no need to elaborate.

Te best way to apply this model, should You want to, is getting educated yourself, and then making sure everybody you know wants to be like you.
doesn't work for me, though. :s

RE: I wish..
By Moishe on 2/20/2009 10:20:09 AM , Rating: 2
I know that Americans don't value education as much as we should. Kind of a shame.

An educated man can still be poor be you cannot remove the benefit of a trained mind and he will always have the tools to better himself. An uneducated man can only hope that some force (himself or others) pushes him to become educated. I've had no external pushing and relatively little internal drive for education myself until I grew up a little and realized that By not moving forward in "learning" I am slowly drifting to the rear of the pack. Keep up or get left behind.

RE: I wish..
By Steve1981 on 2/20/2009 11:11:44 AM , Rating: 2
I know that Americans don't value education as much as we should. Kind of a shame.

Indeed. Education generally has a proven tangible return on investment, and an immeasurable, but no less great, intangible return. Unfortunately, you don't realize that until you get some education under your belt.

Ummm... this isn't news
By mpjesse on 2/20/09, Rating: 0
RE: Ummm... this isn't news
By Moishe on 2/20/2009 11:04:52 AM , Rating: 2
I wonder what the difference between the two is?

Yes, it is news.
By articbliss on 2/20/2009 12:16:55 PM , Rating: 2
This is news. "Labs on a chip" are not new, but one using an engineered bacteria is. The big thing here is precision. All the electronics are doing is picking up the emissions from the bacteria. I am assuming from what the article is saying that these bacteria can detect chemical agents at a much lower concentration than other technologies. Not to mention you could bundle them into a much more compact device then used today.

If you want to get technical the Army has had electronics that can pick up chemical agents for a long long time. Not to mention their is a handheld "sniffer" that can detect concentrations of chemicals associated with handling explosives. Remember that most tech isn't anthing new, but a refinement of what can already be done. Smaller is better!

By croc on 2/20/2009 5:12:36 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder how often one needs to 'feed' this chip? Or what the life-span is?

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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