Nanotube biosensor

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NASA has developed a nanotechnology-based biosensor that can detect trace amounts of specific bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause water-borne illnesses and fatalities.


has developed a biosensor that will be used to help prevent the spread of biohazards in water, food and other contaminated sources. The sensor works by detecting trace amounts of bacteria, viruses and parasites.

NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California licensed the nanotechnology-based biosensor technology to Troy, New York-based Early Warning. Under a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement, NASA and Early Warning jointly will develop biosensor enhancements. Initially, the biosensor will be configured to detect the presence of common and rare strains of microorganisms associated with water-borne illnesses and fatalities.

‘The biosensor makes use of ultra-sensitive carbon nanotubes which can detect biohazards at very low levels,’ said Meyya Meyyappan, chief scientist for exploration technology and former director of the Center for Nanotechnology at Ames. ‘When biohazards are present, the biosensor generates an electrical signal, which is used to determine the presence and concentration levels of specific microorganisms in the sample. Because of their tiny size, millions of nanotubes can fit on a single biosensor chip.’

Early Warning company officials said food and drink companies, water utilities, industrial plants, hospitals and airlines could use the biosensor to prevent outbreaks of illnesses caused by pathogens. The company expects to launch its water-testing products in late 2008.