Portable anthrax detector that works in 15 minutes under development

U.S. researchers are developing a portable anthrax detector capable of analyzing a sample suspected of contamination within 15 minutes.

The new technology, developed by the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering of the University of Albany and Cornell University, uses nanofabricated fluidic cartridges that work to amplify any anthrax DNA present in a sample and are capable of revealing the presence of just 40 cells of the deadly bacteria Bacillus anthracis.

The system works by loading a droplet of sample into the detector without manual intervention. The device contains fluidic inputs for adding the sample and reagents, removing waste, carrying out DNA purification and an integrated chamber for amplifying only the target DNA using a polymerase chain reaction system.

"The average time required for DNA purification during these experiments was approximately 15 minutes, and when combined with real-time PCR analysis, this resulted in an average time to detection of 60 minutes," the researchers said.

Anthrax is a potentially lethal microbe that could be used to infect victims during a bioterrorist event through aerosolized particles, contamination of the food and water supply, or dried powders. The complexity of the microbe’s biology has made it difficult to develop a portable detection device that can be employed quickly in the field.