Nano Sensor could Boost Food, Water Safety

Friday, April 1, 2011 @ 12:04 PM gHale


A nanotechnology-based biosensor may allow early detection of pathogens and potential cancer cells, leading to increased food safety and reduced health risks.

Lateef Syed, Kansas State University doctoral student in chemistry, Hyderabad, India, is developing the biosensor with Jun Li, Kansas State associate professor of chemistry. While their research focuses on E. coli, Syed said the same technology could also detect other kinds of pathogens.

“Kansas is a leading state in meat production and the poultry industry,” Syed said. “Any outbreak of pathogens in these industries causes huge financial losses and a lot of health risks. We want to prevent these outbreaks by detecting pathogens at an early stage.”

Syed’s research for almost four years has focused on developing nanotechnology-based biosensors for pathogen detection and cancer biomarker detection. He began the research as a doctoral student under the direction of Li, who has researched nanotechnology for 15 years.

“Nanotechnology is a very exciting area,” Li said. “It really provides an opportunity to solve problems for health care and food safety. It can also be helpful for the environment and energy issues.”

The project is a continuation of work that Li performed at NASA Ames Research Center in California, where he spent seven years developing nanotechnology. While working in California, Li came up with the idea of developing a small chip to capture and detect pathogens.

When Li arrived at K-State in 2007 he continued the biosensor research with Syed. Together they are working on developing biosensors for cancer diagnosis and pathogen detection. To develop these biosensors, the team uses carbon nanofibers, or CNFs, because they can form an array of tiny electrodes that is even smaller than bacteria and viruses. When they are able to capture these microbial particles at the electrode surface, you can detect an electric signal.

“A goal is to integrate this technology into a hand-held electronic device for pathogen detection so that we can use this device for in-line monitoring of water quality or food quality at industrial processing sites,” Syed said. “We have some preliminary results that indicate this technology is feasible, and I’m quite happy about that.”

A Canadian-based company called Early Warning Inc., which provided the K-State research team with $240,000 for two years as part of the developmental work, is supporting the research.

“We’re still working with the company and trying to eventually deliver this as a product to feed the market for water quality monitoring,” Li said. “You don’t want people to drink contaminated water and get sick before you can do something. This research can be very helpful in the future as it can be applied in the very early stages before an outbreak spreads.”



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