Anthrax is a deadly bacterial disease and a weapon of war, typically found living in soil, that’s dangerous to both farm animals and humans that work with them. Farmers in developed nations regularly conduct tests for Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium responsible for anthrax, but that is often too expensive for poorer regions in the world.
Researchers at Sandia National Labs have simplified and put on a cassette what was previously a high tech process of detecting B. anthracis. Besides bringing down the price of testing from around $30 to around $6, the technology would prevent individual labs and lab techs from growing and working with substantial quantities of a deadly pathogen.
The device requires no battery or electric power to operate. It’s hardy against wide temperature variation and can detect very small numbers of B. anthracis spores. That could make it especially useful in parts of the world where anthrax is prevalent, but refrigeration and lab facilities are lacking.
The device can be used by a trained technician in the field. The technician would put a sample swab into the amplification chamber, which contains selective growth media. The device then uses a lateral flow assay, similar to a common pregnancy test, to detect the B. anthracis. Magnetically operated valves allow the sample to advance from stage to stage to complete the testing process. A colored line will appear on the device several hours later, if the test is positive for the bacteria.
After testing, the technician can initiate a chemical process that sterilizes the device, which avoids the risk of positive samples accumulating and falling into the wrong hands. In addition to the sterilization process, the device is sealed closed, making extraction of live bacteria difficult.
Press release: Pocket-sized anthrax detector aids global agriculture…