Engineers at UCLA just developed a device can be attached to a cell phone to detect the presence of Escherichia Coli in food and water. Researchers recently published their findings in the peer-reviewed Royal Society of Chemistry journal.
The device uses a lightweight, compact plug-in scanner adapter that turns a cell phone into a miniature fluorescent microscope, researchers say. The device shines LED lights onto a water or food sample, causing E. coli particles to fluoresce on the sample's surface.
The device then uses the cell phone's camera to take pictures of the sample, and identify the presence of the bacteria by the level of fluorescence, researchers explain. Field portability could make the device a useful tool for public health, as tracking food poisoning outbreaks quickly can be difficult and time-consuming with traditional lab methods.
The device also could eventually be adjusted to identify other bacteria, researchers say, and in multiple solutions. It has identified E. coli in water, food and milk already, but could pick up bacteria's presence in soil and other materials, making it valuable for use in the field to identify and track food-borne illness. Some industry analysts see a dual purpose, with commercial applications for diners and travelers trying to identify tainted meals or food products.
Researchers are calling the attachment "cost-effective," although they don't specify the cost of the device. They do note that the plug-in uses inexpensive battery-operated LED lights.