Portable anthrax detector developed

Scientists have recently developed a portable device that is capable of detecting the presence of anthrax spores in less than one hour.

Cornell and the University of Albany researchers reported that the new device can positively identify anthrax bacterium in samples containing as few as 40 microscopic spores, according to RDMag.com.

The device, which can fit in the overhead compartment of a passenger aircraft, could potentially be configured to detect countless other kinds of pathogens.

"It was built with the notion of being portable," Carl Batt, a professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell and a coauthor of a study on the new device, said, RDMag.com reports.

Batt’s research appeared in the Journal of Biomedical Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.

The detector, which spent almost seven years in development, automatically recovers cells, collects and purifies DNA, and conducts real-time polymerase chain reactions to identify the presence of anthrax. PCR is a well established platform for rapidly detecting biological material and is able to amplify small amounts of DNA.

The scientists began the project by looking at a small suitcase-sized plastic box.

"Whatever we do, it has to fit in here," Batt said, RDMag.com reports. "It was a line in the sand, an engineering challenge where everything had to fit in the box."

The device contains pumps, heating and cooling elements, and optical and computational circuitry. The researchers are still working to develop new strategies for the fluid pumping system they created, which takes up most of the space used in the detector. They said that they can fabricate most of the system’s components on a single chip.

The research received funding from KRAFT foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Institute of Justice, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.