Scientists have built a new sensor that can detect the potentially deadly E.coli bacteria in 15-20 minutes, much faster than traditional lab tests. E.coli can be transmitted in contaminated food and water, posing particular risks to children and the elderly. In the late spring of 2011 a serious outbreak of E.coli bacteria sickened thousands of people in Germany and killed more than 50.
A team of researchers from the Photonics Research Center at the University of Quebec in Outaouais, Canada, under direction of Professor Wojtek J. Bock and collaborators from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, have built a new sensor that can quickly and cost-effectively detect E.coli over a wide temperature range. The researchers describe the sensor in a paper in the journal Optics Letters.
“Using currently available technologies, which are mostly based on amplification of the sample, it takes several hours to days to detect the presence of bacteria. A fast and accurate detection alternative is, therefore, preferable over the existing technology,” said Saurabh Mani Tripathi, a physicist at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, India. Faster tests for the bacteria could lead to faster treatment of patients, as well as to cheaper and easier environmental monitoring, he said.
The new sensor uses bacteriophages—viruses that can naturally latch onto and kill bacteria. The viruses are bonded to the surface of an optical fiber and will grab E.coli bacteria from a sample and keep them attached. When a beam of light strikes the surface, the presence of E.coli shifts the wavelength in a telltale sign of bacterial contamination.
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