NASA Develops, Licenses Nano-Based Biosensor Technology

NASA announced yesterday it has developed a revolutionary nanotechnology-based biosensor that can detect trace amounts of specific bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Making use of ultra-sensitive carbon nanotubes--millions of which can fit on a single biosensor chip--the sensor can determine the presence and concentration levels of specific microorganisms in samples and be used to help prevent the spread of potentially deadly biohazards in water, food, and other contaminated sources, NASA said.

The administration's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California licensed the biosensor technology to Troy, N.Y.-based Early Warning Inc. under a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement to jointly develop biosensor enhancements. According to NASA, the biosensor initially will be configured to detect the presence of common and rare strains of microorganisms associated with water-borne illnesses and fatalities.

Early Warning company officials said food and beverage companies, water agencies, industrial plants, hospitals, and airlines could use the biosensor to prevent outbreaks of illnesses caused by pathogens--without needing a laboratory or technicians. "Biohazard outbreaks from pathogens and infectious diseases occur every day in the U.S. and throughout the world," said Early Warning President Neil Gordon. "The key to preventing major outbreaks is frequent and comprehensive testing for each suspected pathogen, as most occurrences of pathogens are not detected until after people get sick or die. Biohazards can enter the water supply and food chain from a number of sources which are very difficult to uncover." The company expects to launch its water-testing products late this year.

"Ambitious space missions have produced some of the world's most creative technologies by NASA and its industrial partners," said Harry Partridge, deputy director of the Space Technologies Division at Ames. "Not only does NASA want these technologies used in space applications, an equally important objective is the transition of NASA research into real world products that can benefit our society."

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