UC Riverside researchers publish paper on botulism detection system

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have developed a device that speeds the detection of a virulent strain of botulism neurotoxin from hours or days to minutes, making treatment or vaccination more effective.

Botulinum neurotoxin B, one of five strains that are known to be toxic to humans, is targeted in the paper that appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper's authors included UC Riverside Professor of Cell Biology and Neuroscience Vladimir Parpura and Umar Mohideen, a professor of physics, both part of the Center for Nanoscale Science and Engineering at UC Riverside; graduate student Wei Liu; staff researcher Vedrana Montana; and Edwin Chapman, a professor of physiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Given its rapid detection and small size, the device, known as a micromechanosensor, will find applications in medicine, in the war against bioterrorism or in the food industry, Parpura said.

"Of course a good deal of testing needs to be done first," Parpura said. "What we've done is shown proof that the principle works."

The principle, he added, works much like a fishing pole and line. A protein-coated bead at the end of a microscopic cantilever comes in contact with the neurotoxin, which cuts through the protein strands connecting the two, much like a fish would cut through a fishing line. The bead's separation causes the cantilever to vibrate, announcing the neurotoxin's presence. While effective, the process is not yet ready for practical application.

"Right now the issue is that it's linked to an atomic-force microscope, an expensive piece of equipment, which means it cannot be used on a widespread basis," Parpura said.

However, he holds out hope that the process could soon be put into wider practice to detect one of the most potent toxins known to man. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta list botulism as on

Contact: Ricardo Duran
University of California - Riverside

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