Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Glow Bugs

Researchers have genetically engineered a bacterium that can sniff out toxic chemicals at parts-per-billion concentrations. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s the level at which human health effects are often first seen, say the system’s developers, Michael Simpson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Gary Sayler of the University of Tennessee. Unlike other bacterial sensors, which require large and expensive instrumentation, this device is small and potentially inexpensive. Bacteria engineered to detect specific chemicals are deposited on chips less than two millimeters long. Upon exposure to the target chemical, the bacteria glow with an intensity proportional to the concentration of the chemical. The sensors can detect environmental pollutants such as compounds that mimic estrogen, residue from jet fuel in ground water, and chemicals that indicate food spoilage. The researchers have built a working prototype and hope an upcoming alliance with Perkin-Elmer will bring the device to market within three years.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Online Only.
  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.