Researchers at Purdue University have been working to develop new technologies to help stop the spread of foodborne illnesses, which kill 3,000 people a year, by detecting them more efficiently. They have developed a lanthanide-based assay coupled with a laser that can be used to detect toxins and pathogenic E. coli in food samples, water, and a variety of industrial materials.
The two key features of the new technology are the incorporation of lanthanides and simple lateral flow paper-based assays. The Purdue team created a method for combining different heavy metals that, when linked to antibodies, can detect multiple agents in a single analysis.
The approach uses a high-powered laser pulse to obliterate a sample, while simultaneously collecting the spectral signature of the resultant emission. These signals are then compared with a database that translates the signals into an identification of the toxin or pathogen. What makes the technology effective is the linking of antibodies to different heavy metal tags. This creates a unique fingerprint of atomic signatures that can be used to determine if any particular pathogen of interest is present in a sample.