New Test Detects Botulism Contamination in 20 Minutes

Scientists at USDAs Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed a new test strip that can detect botulism and provide results in less than 20 minutes. The new test provides a rapid, preliminary screening in the event of a bioterrorist threat, an outbreak of foodborne botulism in which the culprit food has not yet been pinpointed, or during other emergencies.

ALBANY, Calif.Scientists at USDAs Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have developed a new test strip that can detect botulism and provide results in less than 20 minutes. The new test provides a rapid, preliminary screening in the event of a bioterrorist threat, an outbreak of foodborne botulism in which the culprit food has not yet been pinpointed, or during other emergencies.

The strip fits snugly into a holder like those in pregnancy test kits for at-home use. Only a small amount of prepared sample is needed, and the results, shown on a color display, are easy to see and understand. The strip is equipped with laboratory-built proteins, known as monoclonal antibodies, which bind exclusively to A- or B-type (serotype) botulinum toxins. Together, these types are responsible for more than 80% of all cases of foodborne botulism in the United States.

Using monoclonal antibodies in a lateral-flow device to detect botulinum toxins isn't new;  however, the test is likely the first of its kind that can concurrently detect and differentiate the A and B serotypes. The botulinum investigations, highlighted in the February 2014 issue of Agricultural Research magazine, support the USDA priority of improving food safety. The scientists are continuing to seek collaborations with test-kit developers and manufacturers to expand the test strip's food safety, medical and homeland security applications.

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