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Labs-on-a-chip to detect milk contamination

ARLINGTON, Va., May 14, 2004 -- The Department of Homeland Security is backing research on lab-on-a-chip sensors that might guard the nation's food supply better than the current system of tamper-resistant lids and freshness dates.

Whitaker investigator David Beebe, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed a process to make on-demand, miniature sensors for a wide variety of poisons, including naturally occurring contaminants and intentionally introduced toxins.

The sensors can be constructed to test for a particular toxin in as little as an hour with test results available in minutes.

The Wisconsin group, with Homeland Security funding, is focusing on the nation's milk supply, which comes from a widely dispersed system in which large amounts of the highly perishable product are quickly collected and distributed.

With a short cow-to-consumer timeline, contamination could affect large numbers of people before being detected. It might be possible, however, to incorporate sensors in food packaging that could tell if the package is disturbed or the contents are contaminated.

Beebe's group reported in a paper to be published in the journal Electrophoresis that disposable sensors can be manufactured on-demand in an inexpensive process. With collaborator Eric Johnson, Beebe tested the technique to rapidly detect the botulism toxin, botulinum neurotoxin, the most poisonous substance known.

"Although outbreaks due to contaminated food are rare, the infection can have a profound impact on areas in which the outbreaks occur," Beebe and his colleagues reported. "Due to its high specific toxicity, botulinum toxin is also considered a potential agent for use in bioterrorism."

The botulinum toxin can be detected in blood or food using a standard test that takes up to four days to produce results. But the only treatment is an antitoxin that must be given right away. A lab-on-a-chip could produce faster resul
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Contact: Frank Blanchard
frank@whitaker.org
763-528-2430
Whitaker Foundation
14-May-2004


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