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Firefly enzyme technology offers quick pathogen detection option - developer

By Mark Astley , 20-Mar-2012
Last updated on 20-Mar-2012 at 16:53 GMT

The development uses a version of the enzyme luciferase, which also produces light in fireflies (Photo copyright: Lumora Ltd)
The development uses a version of the enzyme luciferase, which also produces light in fireflies (Photo copyright: Lumora Ltd)

Technology that converts DNA sequences into light, using enzymes found in fireflies, can offer food processors a quick and simply result when testing for contaminated food, its developer has claimed.

The Bioluminescent Assay in Real-Time (BART), which has been developed by Cardiff University’s Professor Jim Murray and Dr Laurence Tisi of Lumora Ltd, highlights the detection of specific DNA sequences such as those of E.coli and Listeria monocytogenes by producing a light signal.

The field-friendly technology, which is being commercialised by Lumora Ltd, uses a version of the enzyme luciferase, which also produces light in fireflies, to create the signal.

Samples are inserted into the device, which then tests for the DNA of common food pathogens. If present, the bacteria trigger the luciferase to produce light - providing a positive contamination results in between 10 minutes and one hour if a microorganism is present.

Faster turnaround

“It is basically a technology to convert DNA sequences into light. It will detect any DNA sequence and amplify it to convert it into light,” head of Cardiff University’s division of molecular biosciences Professor Murray told FoodQualityNews.com.

“However long it takes for a light signal to appear determines the extent of the contamination. The quicker the signal; the worse the contamination.”

Murray added that development offers a much faster turnaround compared with technology such as real time PCR, which is expensive and is restricted to the lab.

“It offers a much faster turnaround in testing, and means that processors do not have to recall their products from supermarkets, at an expense, if later tests suggest the product is contaminated,” said Murray.

“It could be used across the supply chain. But the target audience for this development are food processors and manufacturers who are concerned about protecting their reputation and ensuring the safety of their products.”

Detect pathogens

Professor Murray has been working on the use of luciferase enzymes for around 20 years, after he was initially approached by the UK Ministry of Defence following the first Gulf War.

At the time, he was asked to develop the firefly enzymes to make them less susceptible to heat for its use in warning against biological warfare attacks.

These same enzymes have been used in the BART development, which was recently launched globally.

“In principle, yes [it can be used to detect any foodborne pathogen]. Having discovered that this development works to combat food poisoning organisms, we have now begun testing it on viruses such as HIV/AIDS.”

“The food industry has been looking for dependable, fast and convenient microbiological testing for a long time. Our system will allow workers to test a wide variety of foods in a simple system which uses the most sensitive molecular technology. Portable versions of the device mean that it’s now even possible to test farm animals in the food chain,” Murray added.

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