Tech can detect microorganisms that threaten food supply

LIVERMORE, Calif. (KGO) -- A powerful technology designed to save the lives of soldiers could soon be making our food industry safer. It can detect potentially deadly bacteria and viruses faster than ever before.

For a wounded soldier, knowing the source of an infection could mean the difference between life and death, so researchers at the Lawrence Livermore Lab developed a detector to help doctors do just that.

"Once the sample is fluorescently labeled and the DNA is extracted, we load the sample onto the micro Array," Lawrence Livermore Lab's Dr. Nicholas Be said.

ABC7 first profiled the Livermore Microbial Detection Array last year. At that time, developers had programmed it to recognize more than 8,000 microorganisms, from MRSA to anthrax.

Recently, Livermore researchers teamed up with agricultural experts at Kansas State University. They wanted to see if that power could be used to identify microorganisms that could threaten America's food supply.

"So the most recent work we've done is the swine area, to look at pathogens in pigs," Dr. Crystal Jaing said.

Jaing says the Array can quickly identify subtypes of viruses like H1N1, popularly known as the swine flu.

Experts believe human viruses transmitted to pigs can mix and mutate, creating new virus types that can then be passed back to humans.

The Livermore team says early identification could potentially help disrupt future outbreaks.

"And this is really to help us develop a technology that can analyze not only what's known, but also what's coming, what's emerging," Jaing said.

The bio detector is so powerful that it delivers a reading in about 24 hours.

Jaing says the Livermore system works faster and cheaper than normal DNA testing and can spot pathogens that doctors aren't necessarily looking for, potentially keeping Americans safer both on the battlefield and here at home.
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