Researchers at two universities have made advancements in E. coli testing technology, with one of them having received a patent.

At Kansas State University a new digital approach to a tried and true testing method has become a reality. At Purdue University scientists are using bioluminescence to speed confirmation testing.

KSU improves on the gold standard
Faculty members from the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine have developed a faster, more efficient method of detecting Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC, in ground beef. The bacteria often cause recalls of ground beef and vegetables.

“The traditional gold standard STEC detection, which requires bacterial isolation and characterization, is not amenable to high-throughput settings and often requires a week to obtain a definitive result,” according to a statement from Jianfa Bai, section head of molecular research and development in the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

The new method requires only one day to obtain confirmation results using the technology patented by Kansas State University. It uses the partition-based multichannel digital polymerase chain reaction (PCR) system.

K-State’s scientists developed the new digital PCR test for research and food safety inspections that require shorter turnaround and high throughput, without sacrificing detection accuracy, according to the university’s statement.

“We believe the new digital polymerase chain reaction detection method developed in this study will be widely used in food safety and inspection services for the rapid detection and confirmation of STEC and other foodborne pathogens,” said Jamie Henningson, director of the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Purdue’s illuminating efforts
Researchers at Purdue University have developed a bioluminescence-based assay coupled with a portable device that works with smartphones and laptops to do on-site testing for harmful E. coli in food samples.

The scientists also created an electrical circuit with an amplifier and micro controller to send the data to laptops and smartphones via Bluetooth technology. Their research is published in the January edition of Applied Optics.

“Our goal is to create technology and a process that allows for the cost-effective detection of the causes of foodborne illness using an easy, expedient and efficient process,” said Euiwon Bae, a senior research scientist of mechanical engineering in Purdue’s College of Engineering. 

Bae developed the technology along with Bruce Applegate, a professor of food science in Purdue’s College of Agriculture. 

The men say the testing time frame made possible by their method allows for better integrated detection and quicker action to stop more people from getting sick.

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