The Rice University scientists used an array of tiny ‘nanomechanical cantilevers’, anchored at one end, kind of like little diving boards.
The cantilevers have peptides attached to them that bind to Salmonella – one of the pathogens most commonly associated with foodborne illness which can cause fever, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps.
When the bacteria bind to the peptides, the cantilever arm bends, creating a signal.
The screening system rapidly distinguished Salmonella from other types of bacteria in a sample.
One of the peptides could tell eight different types of Salmonella apart from each other.
The researchers stated that the technique could be applied to other common food pathogens.
“The new approach for pathogen screening is far faster than current commercial methods,” said Biswal, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Rice University.
Conventional methods to detect harmful bacteria in food are reliable and inexpensive, but they can be complicated, time consuming and thus allow contamination to go undetected.
The findings are reported in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.