Exploring new restaurants can be fun, especially when you’re in a new city. But if you’ve ever worried about kitchen cleanliness or food safety practices at a newly discovered dive, take heart: your smart phone may soon be able to help ease your fears.
Researchers from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a prototype fluorescent imaging and sensing platform that can detect the presence of the bacterium E. coli in food and water. The best part is, you don’t have to be in a lab to use it. The device is being designed to attach to your mobile phone.
The engineers combined antibody functionalized glass capillaries with quantum dots (semiconductors often used for medical imaging) as signal reporters to specifically detect E. coli particles in liquid samples using a lightweight, compact attachment to an existing cell-phone camera.
Powered by low-cost batteries, the device’s LEDs “excite” the E. coli particles, causing them to emit florescent light, which is magnified by a lens located beneath the capillaries, and then captured by the phone’s camera.
“The cost-effective cell-phone attachment acts as a florescent microscope, quantifying the emitted light from each capillary after the specific capture of E. coli particles within a sample. By quantifying the florescent light emission from each tube, the concentration of E. coli in the sample can be determined,” write the researchers.
Thanks to the unsafe growing conditions encouraged by the corporately-controlled agricultural system, food-borne illness outbreaks have become more common. If successfully developed for public use, this could be one of the “healthiest” smart phone accessories we’ve ever seen.
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