Monday, November 10, 2014

DNA spray detects food-poisoning bacteria

DNATrek of San Francisco is creating liquids that can be sprayed on fresh foods to detect harmful bacteria.

The liquids contain DNA sequences. The technology works much like an idea developed in Ontario to incorporate DNA into food packaging to detect if and when harmful bacteria develop.

The Ontario innovation has never caught on with the food industry. It’s too early to tell whether the liquid-spray innovation will catch on.

The science came from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, also in San Francisco, writes Stephanie Lee of the San Francisco Herald.

She writes that “the technology could solve the enormous challenge of tracing an outbreak’s source — the places where food items are grown, packed and shipped. When people start feeling the symptoms of salmonella or E. coli, many clues about the contaminated product’s origins, such as the shipment boxes, already have disappeared.

The Food and Drug Administration has already recognized the invention as a safe food additive, but for now, the industry does not use it.

After large-scale tests that are set to begin next year, DNATrek believes that its tool will emerge as a powerful weapon against food-borne illnesses, which cost the country an estimated $150 billion a year in health-related expenses, and counterfeit food products, which cost the global industry $10 billion to $15 billion annually Lee writes.

“If there’s a problem at home and there’s a piece of the cantaloupe left, you can pick it out of the trash, you can scrub the surface, and all the available information is there and you know exactly where it came from,” said Anthony Zografos, founder and CEO of the self-funded, three-employee startup that expects to close a round of seed funding by the end of the month.

George Farquar, a physical chemist at Lawrence Livermore, patented the product in 2010 with about $3 million in research funding from the Department of Defense.

Originally conceived as a biodefense tool, it combines FDA-approved foodstuffs, such as sugar, and a unique DNA sequence to create safe, inhalable microparticles for the purposes of tracking airflow indoors and outdoors.

It has been used to test whether, for instance, air detection systems are able to notice particles that resemble anthrax. Last week, company executives and scientists traveled to the Pentagon to run their third series of tests.