By now you've probably heard of "lab-on-a-chip" technology, where engineers take a lab analysis process that once required, well, a lab, and make it possible to run that analysis on a handheld smartphone device. Results are generated in real time, cheaper, and without bulky equipment. In this case, Michigan State University (MSU) plant pathologists are using the device in a field of vegetables under attack by pathogens.
(Image courtesy of Michigan State University)
Dr. Syed A. Hashsham, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MSU just demonstrated his new diagnostic device, the GeneZ, at the National Plant Diagnostic Network Meeting held at UC Berkeley last weekend. His talk, Potential of Microfluidic Systems for Diagnostics in Plant Pathology, was featured during the Symposium on New Technologies in Diagnostics, during which he showed the device in action.
The GeneZ has already been proven in the field, in a case where the device successfully identified a pathogen attacking cucumbers. The technology has also been shown capable of identifying cancer in humans, in a related study by Dr. Hashasham aimed at enabling early detection in resource-poor countries. Results of this latter study were shown in a demonstration for the NIH in August.
To perform a plant analysis, researchers take a swab for pathogens and transfer the sample to a microfluidic chip, which is inserted into the device. Used with an iPod Touch or Android-based tablet, Gene-Z can identify the pathogen, its genotype and its amount in 10 to 30 minutes. The GeneZ technology is ready to be commercialized, with the help of MSU Technologies, the tech transfer office of the University, where they are very enthusiastic about its potential for protecting the world's food sources.
We suspect plant disease laboratories like the one above will still be as vital as ever, and the GeneZ field device will allow them to identify and address dangers more quickly and with more sophistication. The work of lab researchers will be to find ways to eradicate those pests and increase our supply of healthy plant and foodstocks.
For other blogs on lab-on-chip technology in this series, see:
Meet researchers at Michigan State University on July 12, 2012 when we hold our 2nd Annual BioResearch Product Faire™ event on the East Lansing campus. For information on exhibiting click the button below:
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