A newly developed sensor may revolutionize how drugs and medical devices are tested for contamination.
In the process it may also help ensure the survival of two species of threatened animals. To be fair, some of the credit goes to an African frog.
In the wild, the African clawed frog produces antibacterial peptides—small chains of amino acids—on its skin to protect it from infection.
Researchers have found a way to attach these peptides, which can be synthesized in the laboratory, to a small electronic chip that emits an electrical signal when exposed to harmful bacteria, including pathogenic E. coli and salmonella.
“It’s a robust, simple platform,” says Michael McAlpine, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University. “We think these chips could replace the current method of testing medical devices and drugs.”
A paper outlining the research was published online Oct. 18 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The current testing method has a major drawback in that it relies on the blood of the horseshoe crab, a species that is roughly 450 million years old. The horseshoe crab population has declined in recent years, and as a result, so has the population of a bird that feasts on the crab.