Consumers will soon have devices in their hands to detect GMO and toxic foods
Marco Torres, Prevent Disease
In the not too distant future, consumers will be able to run on-the-spot
tests for environmental toxins, GMOs, pesticides, food safety and more
with their smartphones and other hand-held devices.
Every human being on every developed nation on Earth, whether living in a
rural or isolated area, in the middle of a large city, or near an
industrialized area, now contains at least 700 contaminants in their
body including pesticides, pthalates, benzenes, parabens, xylenes and
many other carcinogenic and endrocrine disrupting chemicals.
We are being bombarded on a daily basis by an astronomical level of
toxicity, all controlled by chemical terrorists on behalf of the food
industry. Morever, many of these toxins affect our fertility and those
of successive generations.
It’s time for people to know exactly what they are putting in their
bodies and technology is coming to the rescue. University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign researchers have developed a cradle and app that uses a
phone’s built-in camera and processing power as a biosensor to detect
toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses and other molecules.
“We’re interested in biodetection that needs to be performed outside of
the laboratory,” said team leader Brian Cunningham, a professor of
electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering at Illinois.
“Smartphones are making a big impact on our society — the way we get our
information, the way we communicate. And they have really powerful
computing capability and imaging. A lot of medical conditions might be
monitored very inexpensively and non-invasively using mobile platforms
like phones. They can detect molecular things, like pathogens, disease
biomarkers or DNA, things that are currently only done in big diagnostic
labs with lots of expense and large volumes of blood.”
“Modern biological research is also allowing an extension of laboratory
devices on to small computer chips to detect biological information
within DNA sequences,” said biotech specialist Dr. Marek Banaszewski.
“Bioinformatic algorithms within programs will aid the identification of
transgenes, promoters, and other functional elements of DNA, making
detection of genetically modified foods on-the-spot and real-time
without transportation to a laboratory.”
The wedge-shaped cradle created by Cunningham’s team contains a series
of optical components — lenses and filters — found in much larger and
more expensive laboratory devices. The cradle holds the phone’s camera
in alignment with the optical components.
At the heart of the biosensor is a photonic crystal. A photonic crystal
is like a mirror that only reflects one wavelength of light while the
rest of the spectrum passes through. When anything biological attaches
to the photonic crystal — such as protein, cells, pathogens or DNA — the
reflected color will shift from a shorter wavelength to a longer
The entire test takes only a few minutes; the app walks the user through
the process step by step. Although the cradle holds only about $200 of
optical components, it performs as accurately as a large $50,000
spectrophotometer in the laboratory. So now, the device is not only
portable, but also affordable for fieldwork in developing nations.
In a paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip, the team demonstrated
sensing of an immune system protein, but the slide could be primed for
any type of biological molecule or cell type. The researchers are
working to improve the manufacturing process for the iPhone cradle and
are working on a cradle for Android phones as well. They hope to begin
making the cradles available next year.
In addition, Cunningham’s team is working on biosensing tests that could
be performed in the field to detect toxins in harvested corn and
soybeans, and to detect pathogens in food and water.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Modular Solid
State Technologies EMFT in Regensburg have also engineered an ingenius
solution to detecting toxins – a glove that recognizes if toxic
substances are present in the surrounding air.
The protective glove is equipped with custom-made sensor materials and
indicates the presence of toxic substances by changing colors. In this
regard, the scientists adapted the materials to the corresponding
analytes, and thus, the application. The color change — from colorless
(no toxic substance) to blue (toxic substance detected). The researchers
also envision other potential applications for the glove in the food
Other handheld devices currently in development are portable
chemiluminescence detectors, but based on enzyme-catalyzed reactions
emitting light. The detection devices for nucleic acids, biotin
associated with the target DNA provides the handle for the
chemiluminescent detection. The non-radioactive DNA detection chemistry
will be able to readily identify single-copy genes in transgenic plants
making them suitable for GMO detection.