Micro-Chem Lab Can Detect Virus/Bacteria (in Water)

Scientists at the top-secret Sandia National Laboratories in the United States have developed an easy-to-use device that can detect the presence of biological warfare agents in public water supplies, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Tuesday.

The portable device was inspired by the "tricorder", which let doctors on the science-fiction television series "Star Trek" immediately diagnose a patient's disease, the report said.

The "Micro-Chem Lab" has been in development since 1996 at a cost of more than 30 million dollars. It can spot dangerous molecules consisting of just a few hundred atoms and allows deadly agents like viruses, bacteria or biowarfare toxins to be detected within seconds or minutes, officials at the nuclear weapons research facility said.

The device works by feeding water samples through extremely thin, hair-like tubes filled with gel. As the samples slip through the gel toward a positive or negative electrical charge, they leave chemical traces of large protein molecules.

Different viruses, bacteria and biotoxins are characterized by their abundance of certain proteins. By identifying these "fingerprint" proteins, the device can identify the deadly agents.

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