New biosensor may improve water safety

MANHATTAN, KS, Apr. 1, 2011 -- Kansas State University researchers are developing a nanotechnology-based biosensor that may allow early detection of cancer cells and pathogens, a technology, they say, that could be useful for in-line monitoring of water quality...

MANHATTAN, KS, Apr. 1, 2011 -- Kansas State University researchers are developing a nanotechnology-based biosensor that may allow early detection of cancer cells and pathogens. The technology, they say, could be useful for in-line monitoring of water quality or food quality at industrial processing sites.

Lateef Syed, doctoral student in chemistry, Hyderabad, India, is developing the biosensor with Jun Li, associate professor of chemistry. Their research focuses on E. coli, but Syed said the same technology could also detect other kinds of pathogens, such as salmonella and viruses.

For more than three and a half years, Syed's research has focused on developing nanotechnology-based biosensors for pathogen detection and cancer biomarker detection. He began the research as a doctoral student under the direction of Li, who has researched nanotechnology for 15 years.

To develop these biosensors, the team uses carbon nanofibers, or CNFs, because they can form an array of tiny electrodes that is even smaller than bacteria and viruses. When these microbial particles are captured at the electrode surface, an electric signal can be detected.

The project is supported by a Canadian-based company called Early Warning Inc., which provided the K-State research team with $240,000 for two years as part of the developmental work. Recently, the project was also supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, or CEEZAD, at K-State.

"We're still working with the company and trying to eventually deliver this as a product to feed the market for water quality monitoring," Li said. "You don't want people to drink contaminated water and get sick before you can do something. This research can be very helpful in the future as it can be applied in the very early stages before an outbreak spreads."

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