Published On: Thu, May 29th, 2014

Israeli Scientists Develop a New Way to Detect Food and Water Contaminations

People may soon be able to check the food that they eat and the water that they drink for any biological contamination before they consume it.

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Israeli scientists have created a new technology that can quickly and easily identify harmful microbes in the food and water supply. Once identified, the bacteria can either be neutralized or the food/water simply avoided.

Bactusense uses silicon based microchips that trap bacteria in any liquid. Its optical biosensor’s scanners can identify bacteria and determine if it is harmful to humans when consumed.

Contaminated drinking water has become a major problem throughout the world. One tenth of the its population does not have access to clean water supplies and more than three million people die each year from drinking contaminated water.

There is also a problem with processed foods. In the United States alone millions of people get sick each year from eating contaminated packaged foods and more than 3, 000 of them die.

Its inventors expect that Bactusense will become an inexpensive, widely available and easy to use method for checking food and water for contaminants before consumption within the next three years.

Professor Amir Saar of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and Professor Ester Segal of the Technion in Haifa partnered to develop the new technology. Israeli investment firm Capitalnano, which specializes in nano-technologies, licensed the new technology.

Capitalnano’s managing partner, Ofer Du-nour, said about Bactusense, “It can be used as a continuous monitor for water systems or for food processing. Or it can be used on an as-needed basis for analyzing blood or urine samples of patients being admitted to hospitals. Basically it’s the same core system with slight variations. There would be an add-on for water systems to provide remote sensing, so it can be in the field without any need for a person to operate it.”

Bactusense does not mark the first attempt at such a technology, nor the first method for dealing with the problem of contaminated food and water. But other current methods are costly and/or time consuming.

Imagine carrying around a detector to check any water anywhere which can give you immediate results.

Bacterial contaminations in hospitals, where many patients contract new illnesses, can also be detected with Bactusense. Imagine doctors and nurses having effective equipment to check for contaminations quickly.

Most importantly, Bactusense does not just detect bacteria, it determines exactly what the bacteria is so that medical personnel can determine how to deal with it.

As Mr. Du-nour said of the uniqueness of his new product, “We saw several attempts to do what we do, and it comes down to the sensitivity of the system and its ability to distinguish between live and dead bacteria. This is important in the food industry, because after you’ve cleaned the machinery you still have dead bacteria present and you don’t want to count them.”

Amir Sa’ar has a PhD degree in Physics from Tel Aviv University. In 1988 he received a Fulbright fellowship and joined the California Institute of Technology in the department of Applied Physics. Since 1998 he has served as a Professor of Applied Physics at the Hebrew University. Professor Sa’ar is a member of the management team of the Hebrew University Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and is the academic director of the research infrastructure of the center.

Ester Segal earned her B.Sc. in chemical engineering in 1997 from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. After completing her PhD in 2004, she was awarded with the Rothschild Postdoctoral Fellowship and joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, working on porous Si nanomaterials. In 2007 she returned to Israel and joined the Department of Biotechnology and Food Engineering at the Technion.

She currently leads a research group focusing on the broad interface between materials science and biotechnology.

Founded in 2012 by Nir Davison, Capitalnano invests in and founds startup companies that are based on nanotechnologies developed in Israeli academia. The company screens the Nano-centers and their first target technologies, signs licensing agreements and builds a startup company around each one of them.

Nir Davison is an entrepreneur involved in a wide variety of industries, such as, Telecommunication, Technology, Real Estate, Energy and Nano Technology.

Ofer Du-nour is a founder of startups with 30 years of technology development experience.

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