Looking Beyond The Horizon

Innovative Technologies & Services

Portable biosensor for detecting food contaminants on the fly

Posted by evolvingwheel on May 20, 2007

Scientists at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), with the CSIC, have developed a new electro-chemical biosensor that detects the presence, in food, of very small amounts of atrazine –one of the most widely used herbicides in agriculture and which also has very long lasting effects on the environment- as well as antibiotics in food. This portable biosensor is capable of detecting contaminants fast and cheap than the expensive and cumbersome laboratory methods used today by the food agencies. The sensor detects very minute amount of contaminants, much lower then the maximum amount allowed by the European regulations, and could be manufactured for industrial as well as personal, disposable use. Now the question is, how will the food agencies (government or certified, private) will accept the fact that such disposable units are available for consumer use. Government will have a big say in it.

  • If this invention has to reach the government agencies, will they replace the costly chromatographs? Or is this going to be a device which will be used in conjunction with the expensive testing methods? Will this be implemented with the inspectors for field testing purpose?
  • Another question arises if the governments decides to control the calibration of the device? What if you buy such an instrument and used it at home with a calibration that will just not let pass any food item currently in the market. Oh well… that will definitely create some level of panic across the consumer base. Who will then provide the standard of calibration for this device and how will that be settled?
  • Few months back there was a massive pet food recall in the U.S. The product was found to be contaminated from its origin with Melamin, used in plastics and fertilizer. How will the introduction of this device at the begining of the food processing process control contamination across the food chain? For foreign imports of food content, how will this device help detect food contamination from either the origin or the destination?

These questions will definitely dictate the business need of the invention and will eventually drive the commercialization curve of the product life cycle. If any start-up company wants to put this concept into the market, who are good investors to approach to? Cargill? Will huge food manufacturing companies (General Mill) be interested in bringing this device to the market? What are the stakes? The company will need to focus on the government approval factor considerably.

Here’s the link for the [aricle]. 

Addition [05/24/2007]: A news article came out in MSNBC today http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18841928/. I am wondering how these kinds of issues will affect the investment in food safety detection services.

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