Hunting for deadly bacteria
You can't see them, or smell them or taste them.
They can be in our water and in our food, multiplying so rapidly that
conventional testing methods for detecting pathogens such as E.coli, salmonella and listeria come too late for the tens of thousands of Canadians who suffer the ill effects of these deadly bacteria.
Biochemist Yingfu Li and his research team have developed a simple test
that can swiftly and accurately identify specific pathogens using a
system that will 'hunt' for bacteria, identifying their harmful
presence before they have a chance to contaminate our food and water.
Like any living thing, bacteria have their own spoor, leaving behind
molecular trails of bacterial 'droppings'. Li tracks these metabolic
by-products with molecular beacons - little lighthouses on a molecular
scale that actually light up when they detect one of the by-products
Li created a DNAzyme sensor that will be able to identify any bacteria,
utilizing a method that doesn't require the steps and specialized
equipment typically used to identify whether or not harmful bacteria
"Current methods of food-borne bacterial detection take time. The five
days it takes to detect listeria, for example, can translate into an
outbreak that costs lives. We have developed a universal test that
uses less complex procedures but still generates precise and accurate
results," said Li, a Canada Research Chair in Directed Evolution of Nucleic Acids.
Li's fluorescent test system was highlighted in Angewandte Chemie International Edition,
a prestigious weekly chemistry journal that ranks among the best for
the original research it publishes. Li's paper, co-authored with lab
members Monsur Ali, Sergio Aguirre and Hadeer Lazim, was designated a
'hot paper' by Angewandte's editors for "its importance in a rapidly
evolving field of current interest".
"McMaster researchers are known for their ability to provide solutions
to problems that impact the public's well-being, said Mo Elbestawi,
vice-president, research and international affairs at McMaster. "The
test that Professor Li has developed will help safeguard the health of
Canadians, and supply industry with a reliable means to bring safe
food products to consumers and reduce their time to market."
Li's research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering
Research Council (NSERC) and the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network.
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