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UCLA scientists create E coli detector attachment for cell phones

Posted by bryanh on Mar 8, 2012, Categories: Video and Movies

Hamburger

Wondering if that burger is riddled with E. Coli? A cell phone attachment developed by UCLA scientists can detect E.coli from samples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Scientists from the University of California Los Angeles have come up with a device that can put a cellular phone to use fighting food-borne illness like e coli. The device, which is only a prototype, uses LED and ultraviolet lights to detect E. coli bacteria.

There’s an e coli accessory for that

One of the most common food-borne illnesses is an infection caused by the Escherichia Coli bacteria, commonly called E. coli, the bulk of which comes from the E.coli O157:H7 strain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this strain, along with some other strains of E. coli, produces the shiga toxin, which is what makes people sick when they get infected by shiga-producing strains of the bacteria. E. coli outbreaks can be fatal in some cases. Most people never know they have it because the symptoms, such as nasuea, diarrhea and vomiting, can be attributed to just about anything including a visit from one’s in-laws. However, because of the danger, one needs to do all they can to ensure they don’t eat contaminated food, and it turns out that some scientists from UCLA have developed an accessory for that.

[A companion app for the device would need ingenious app developers to be done right]

The lab is going mobile

Ordinarily, one needs a laboratory in order to detect E. coli, but some scientists from UCLA, according to the Daily Mail, have invented a device that clips on to the back of a cellular phone or on top of the phone’s camera. The device has on-board batteries that power it. It works by dripping liquid samples of whatever the user wishes to test for E. coli, which are pumped into tiny glass tubes, called capillaries, with LED lights at one end and a solution emulsified with quantum-dot E. coli antibodies. Quantum dots, put as simply, are tiny semi-conductors; if E. coli is detected in the sample, it conducts currents to the LEDs, lighting them up. Then, according to the abstract on UCLA’s website, a second lens housed in the device, which fits between the capillaries and the mobile phone camera, magnifies the image so a picture can be taken by the phone’s camera.

Just a proof of concept

The device was only recently reported in Analyst, a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry. That said, according to L.A. Weekly, it’s only a proof-of-concept; it isn’t known if it is close to or even will make it into production. That said, similar devices such as CellScope, according to Popular Science, have been developed. CellScope is basically a battery-powered microscope which similarly attaches to the back of a cell phone, over the camera, and images are taken and sent using the phone and camera. It has obvious use as a diagnostic tool and has already undergone some field testing in Africa.

Sources

Daily Mail

UCLA

LA Weekly

Popular Science: http://www.popsci.com/bown/2008/innovator/cell-scope

Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/general/index.html/

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