Biothreat detector utilizes firefly-based enzymes

Scientists from the U.K. recently developed a foodborne pathogen detection system that uses Firefly luciferase, the enzyme that causes firefly abdomens to light up.

The device, known as Bioluminescent Assay in Real-Time, detects harmful bacteria, such as Listeria and Salmonella, by converting the bacteria's DNA sequences into distinguishable patterns of light in the presence of activated luciferase, according to

The assay was created by Lumora, a company that specializes in bioluminescence technology, and by Dr. Jim Murray, a professor of molecular biosciences at Cardiff University.

Murray said that the new system can process a positive result in between 10 minutes to an hour depending on the number of organisms undergoing testing.

By comparison, traditional pathogen detectors released in recent years have boasted processing times that are often noted as less than 24 hours.

"This is a major breakthrough as molecular diagnostics is typically associated with complex and expensive hardware," reports. "The result is the simplest, most robust hardware solution for real-time diagnostics ever developed."

Portable versions of the device would allow for environmental testing, including tests that can be conducted on farm animals. Beyond foodborne pathogen tests, Murray said that he hopes that the portability of the device will allow it to be adopted by resource poor nations for disease testing.