A group of Scottish scientists at The Macaulay Institute, Aberdeen, have received funding to mass-produce a revolutionary food testing kit that will detect the presence of a host of potentially fatal contaminants from bugs such as Compylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella - but it will do it in five hours rather than the six days it currently takes, making it the fastest such technology in the world.
According to the Macaulay Institute’s Dr Brajesh Singh, who leads the project, the new technology could prevent thousands of deaths every year from food poisoning outbreaks.
“The conventional methods for detecting food contamination used by industries and regulatory agencies are labour intensive, time consuming and costly. Our proposed technology offers for the first time, at low cost, the simultaneous detection of multiple contaminants within five to eight hours, and has the potential to revolutionise the food safety industry and save lives through prevention of food poisoning epidemics.
“We believe that this technology provides a real opportunity to make Scotland a world-leader in microbial diagnostics and industrial microbiology. A combination of an excellent skill base, innovative science, leading regulatory agencies, and industrial track-record places Scotland at the forefront of this technological arena.”
“The project will allow Scotland to compete with North America and Continental Europe in this growing market, which estimates suggest will be worth US$2.4 billion by 2010 for the food sector alone.”
While the technology will initially focus on contaminant detection in food and the environment, it has wider applications and will be attractive to healthcare, forensic and remediation industries.
There is also the potential for this technology to be used in the future to quickly detect hospital super bugs such as MRSA, said Dr Singh.
He added: “By proving the concept within two years, the project will achieve a technology that can be licensed to a range of industries or service providers in microbial diagnostics. It will also be marketed through a spin-out company which will manufacture the necessary kits and create a service centre for the UK, leading to new job opportunities in Scotland. These jobs will be in food, environmental and clinical industries.”
Funded by Scottish Enterprise’s Proof of Concept programme, the £246K project’s aim is to be selling products worldwide by 2010 via a spin-out company, which will also analyse food samples and develop more products.
The test kit works by analysing a food sample for specific food pathogens. It will detect multiple microbial contaminants in food, water and environmental samples. This unique method allows dual detection of pathogens and determines if they are capable of producing toxins or whether they have antibiotic resistance. It offers improved diagnostic potential to identify the source of contamination and therefore save lives.
Dr Singh said: “It is also very sensitive and can be used to accurately determine the level of contamination - which is a limitation of present methodologies. Once proven the technology will reduce running costs and allow more frequent and comprehensive surveillance of food safety, improving public health protection and food quality management systems.”
The project also involves Dr Colin Campbell and Dr Fiona Moore of the Macaulay Institute, and Mr Iain Ogden from the University of Aberdeen.
This announcement comes just a week after the high-profile international soil forensics conference organised by the Macaulay Institute.