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E. Coli Testing Technology From Yale Engineers Could Save Thousands Of Lives

Right now, just one in 1000 cows that pass through the deathly gates of an industrial slaughterhouse is tested for harmful pathogens. That's because the current method for testing meat costs $50 and takes 12 hours. The consequences of this languorous process speak for themselves: 5000 Americans die from food-borne illness, while 76 million others -- one in four people in the country -- fall sick.

Everyone wants to blame food producers for these illnesses. But if anything, the recent spate of deadly food poisoning outbreaks highlights the huge variety of ways producers can make mistakes in food safety. It would be virtually impossible to eliminate infection from the food system altogether. The best solution, instead, may be to find a better way to test our food -- and a group of graduate students at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Sciences thinks they've found the answer.

These budding engineers, led by Monika Weber and supervised by engineering Professor Mark Reed, have developed a design for a device that would cut the cost of testing down to $1, and the time it would take to test a sample down to 30 minutes. The design, which they call the α-screen (pronounced "alpha-screen") uses nanotechnology to detect the presence of bacteria so quickly and accurately that Weber says it may one day allow meat producers to incorporate bacterial testing into the production line and test every single cow that goes to market.

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