The innovation, which has been described as a “significant leap forward in detection”, was developed over the last five years by a team at Michigan State University (MSU) thanks to grants from the US military and health authorities of around $5m.
According to its developer, it is the first hand-held multiplex commercially-designed DNA-based diagnostics system.
The product, which has been licensed by Michigan-based company nanoRETE, has the ability to test for a number of pathogens using a simple field-friendly handheld device.
The new development promises to move speedy detection of deadly pathogens and toxins from the laboratory directly to the field, said the firm.
“If a pathogen is present, there is a modification in the electrical group of particles – thus giving an indication of the presence or no presence of a toxin or pathogen,” nanoRETE CEO Fred Beyerlein told FoodQualityNews.com.
The unit will be about the size of a lunch box, making it ideal for the field, he added.
“We have a laboratory equivalent on it now and we expect in the next 24 months to see it in a good commercial phase.”
The development utilises nanoparticles with magnetic polymeric and electrical properties developed by Evangelyn Alocilja – the chief scientific officer of nanoRETE and professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering at MSU.
The mobile technology comes at only a fraction of the cost of competing technology, with tests costing just a few dollars each, Beyerlein added.
Results are achieved on the spot, enabling leaders to take the requisite contingency measures, the company added.
Using the technology, it would also be possible to pinpoint the presence of unknown pathogens. Experts in the area could then determine whether the unknown material was harmful and what precautions should be taken.
Detect threats ASAP
“The development will identify pathogens before infected food get into the food chain,” he added.
Field testing is currently difficult as pathogens must typically be cultured and developed in the laboratory – consuming precious time.
In 2011, Listeria-tainted cantaloupes killed 30 people across the US in 2011 and E.coli-infected sprouted seeds killed 50 people and infected thousands in Germany. According to Beyerlein, testing during these outbreaks was laboratory-based.
"By the time they had figured it out the jack had got out of the box.”
“From day-to-day you hear and read stories where someone has died or someone has been hospitalised after eating tainted food. The real issue has become detecting threats as early as possible,” said Beyerlein.