"Lab On a Chip" Quickly Detects Pollution Without Animal Testing

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"Lab On a Chip" Quickly Detects Pollution Without Animal Testing

By John DeFore, GreenRightNow.com
March 2009

Animal-rights activists may be pleased at a new development that should lead to fewer animals being sacrificed in the name of environmental monitoring — or, at least, will result in vastly smaller organisms being used in the guinea-pig role.

The new developments also could save people from becoming inadvertent guinea pigs when their water system becomes contaminated by detecting problems early.

It all involves taking science to micro levels.

Scientists at Tel Aviv University are among teams around the world working on “lab on a chip” systems that can shrink large amounts of analytic equipment down to a quarter-inch square, and produce results more quickly to boot. At the university’s School of Engineering, a group led by vice-dean Yosi Shacham-Diamand has made such a nanolab that can perform water-quality evaluations that previously might have been the job of test fish; or not come to light until people had already been sickened by stealth toxins.

The chip in question is covered with a layer of bacteria that have been genetically engineered to produce small amounts of light in the presence of certain water contaminants. When paired with sensors that can pick up on these tiny light levels, the device can register changes in water quality in real time instead of waiting for results. “Our system is based on a plastic chip,” Professor Shacham-Diamand says in this press release, “that is more humane, much faster, more sensitive and much cheaper” than conventional tests.

Micro-labs like this one aren’t only useful for testing, say, E. coli levels in a city’s water supply. Scientists are working on applications involving stem cells, various chemicals that could be used in biological warfare, and cancer research.

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