Bacterial pathogens in food and water cause more than 76 million infections per year in the US, which have symptoms ranging from mild gastrointestinal discomfort to severe illness and even death. Accurate detection of these pathogens is essential for avoiding infection. Although molecular and immunological detection methods have progressed, they do sometimes fail to identify toxic bacteria: those that rely on specific known DNA or protein sequences may not detect newly emergent or mutated bacteria. At the other end of the spectrum, existing detection methods may also give false positive results, prompting costly recalls and public distress. This is because the techniques cannot distinguish between live versus dead bacteria and cannot directly evaluate toxicity, only bacterial presence. In addition, many current approaches are time-intensive and expensive. Now, a group of scientists led by Janine Trempy (Oregon State University, Corvallis) has identified a cell-based ‘biosensor’ that can detect toxins from foodborne bacterial pathogens.
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