A credit-card-sized anthrax detection cartridge developed at Sandia National Laboratories makes testing safer, easier, faster and cheaper. Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax, is commonly found in soils all over the world and can cause serious, and often fatal, illness in both humans and animals.

The BaDx pocket-sized detector has everything needed to test a sample for anthrax. (Thayne Edwards)

The BaDx (Bacillus anthracis Diagnostic) device requires no battery or electric power to operate. It’s hardy against wide temperature variation, and can detect very small numbers of B. anthracis spores. That could make it especially useful in parts of the world where anthrax is prevalent, but refrigeration and lab facilities are lacking.

A technician would put a sample swab into the amplification chamber, which contains selective growth media. The device then uses a lateral flow assay, similar to a common pregnancy test, to detect the B. anthracis. Magnetically operated valves allow the sample to advance from stage to stage to complete the testing process. A colored line will appear on the device several hours later, if the test is positive for the bacteria.

The team hopes to use the basic device design to develop tests for other types of disease-carrying bacteria such as salmonella and group A streptococcus, which causes strep throat. Future devices could be created to detect infectious diseases in humans and stem the spread of infectious diseases during epidemics.