Lab-on-a-chip can detect pollutants and disease

Wednesday, 18 February, 2009

Working in the miniaturised world of nanotechnology, Tel Aviv University researchers have made an enormous leap forward in the detection of pollutants.

A team led by Professor Yosi Shacham-Diamand, Vice-Dean of TAU’s Faculty of Engineering, has developed a nano-sized laboratory, complete with a microscopic workbench, to measure water quality in real time. Their lab-on-a-chip is a breakthrough in the effort to keep water safe from pollution and bioterrorist threats, pairing biology with the cutting-edge capabilities of nanotechnology.

“We’ve developed a platform — essentially a micro-sized, quarter-inch square 'lab' — employing genetically engineered bacteria that light up when presented with a stressor in water,” says Prof Shacham-Diamand. Equipment on the little chip can work to help detect very tiny light levels produced by the bacteria.

“Basically, ours is an innovative advance in the ‘lab-on-a-chip’ system,” said Prof Shacham-Diamand. “It’s an ingenious nano-scale platform designed to get information out of biological events. Our solution can monitor water with never-before-achieved levels of accuracy. But as a platform, it can also be used for unlimited purposes, such as investigating stem cell therapies or treating cancer.”

The nanolabs can be used to evaluate several biological processes with practical applications, such as microbes in water, stem cells, or breast cancer development.

Partnering with other Israeli scientists, Tel Aviv University is currently building and commercialising its water-testing mini-labs to measure and monitor how genetically engineered bacteria respond to pollution such as E. coli in water. Cities across Israel have expressed interest in the technology, as has the state of Hawaii.

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