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NASA has developed a revolutionary nanotechnology-based biosensor that can detect trace amounts of specific bacteria, viruses and parasites. This biosensor will be used to help prevent the spread of potentially deadly biohazards in water, food and other contaminated sources.
NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California licensed the biosensor technology to Early Warning Inc., Troy, N.Y. Under a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement, NASA and Early Warning jointly will develop biosensor enhancements. Initially, the biosensor will be configured to detect the presence of common and rare strains of microorganisms associated with water-borne illnesses and fatalities.
"The biosensor makes use of ultra-sensitive carbon nanotubes which can detect biohazards at very low levels," explained Meyya Meyyappan, chief scientist for exploration technology and former director of the Center for Nanotechnology at Ames. "When biohazards are present, the biosensor generates an electrical signal, which is used to determine the presence and concentration levels of specific micro-organisms in the sample. Because of their tiny size, millions of nanotubes can fit on a single biosensor chip."
Early Warning company officials say food and beverage companies, water agencies, industrial plants, hospitals and airlines could use the biosensor to prevent outbreaks of illnesses caused by pathogens - without needing a laboratory or technicians.
"Biohazard outbreaks from pathogens and infectious diseases occur every day in the U.S. and throughout the world," said Neil Gordon, president of Early Warning. "The key to preventing major outbreaks is frequent and comprehensive testing for each suspected pathogen, as most occurrences of pathogens are not detected until after people get sick or die. Biohazards can enter the water supply and food chain from a number of sources which are very difficult to uncover.
Early Warning expects to launch its water-testing products in late 2008.
"Ambitious space missions have produced some of the world's most creative technologies by NASA and its industrial partners," said Harry Partridge, deputy director of the Space Technologies Division at Ames. "Not only does NASA want these technologies used in space applications, an equally important objective is the transition of NASA research into real world products that can benefit our society."
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