A team of scientists and engineers met January 21-22 in Charleston, SC for a strategy session to implement an emerging sensor design for detecting algal biotoxins. The new platform uses proprietary waveguide technology to simultaneously detect multiple toxins at concentrations 10- to 100-fold lower than similar, highly portable tests currently available.
Increased sensitivity reduces the sample size required to detect toxins at environmentally relevant levels, often an impediment to the portability required for field applications.With poor instrument sensitivity, the volume of water or sample size that needs to be processed (e.g., filtered) is large (on the order of many liters) in order to collect a sufficient number of cells and/or amount of toxin to detect, whereas with a highly sensitive instrument this sample volume can be reduced considerably to something more manageable and thus easier to conduct the analysis in the field (i.e., not restricted to the lab bench).
Primary targets are paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins and several cyanobacterial toxins.
This project, 'BEACONS:Biosafety forEnvironmentAlCOntaminants usingNovelSensors,' is funded in part by the NSF under the U.S.-Ireland R&D Partnership Program and involves participants from NOAA, University of Maine, Queen's University Belfast, and Dublin City University.
The Irish counterparts are integrally involved in this research, providing much of the expertise required to generate the antibodies that are being used to detect the toxins in these sensors. Also, the Irish are actually being funded through their own national science agencies (Invest Northern Ireland for the Belfast group and Science Foundation Ireland for the Dublin group)...only the US participants are funded through NSF.
We are still fine-tuning the assay and then will need to complete an extensive validation of the test using various sample types, so we're still a ways off from putting this into 'manufacturing mode'.