This food-borne pathogen-detection technology was published by Purdue University researchers. ( Image courtesy of Purdue University )

Researchers at Kansas State University and Purdue University have discovered faster, better ways to detect foodborne pathogens that are especially harmful to people, according to two studies published in the first two months of 2020.

K-State researchers found a quicker detection method for finding shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC, which is often found in cattle feces and ground beef and is particularly dangerous to humans, according to a study published Jan. 2 by the American Society for Microbiology. E. coli in cattle feces can find its way to fresh produce crops.

“The traditional gold standard STEC detection … often takes a week to obtain a definitive result,” the Kansas researchers wrote in the study.

This new method of detection takes one day.

The “novel and rapid” detection method is an “accurate and sensitive method for STEC detection and confirmation,” according to the study.

Purdue researchers developed a lanthanide-based assay coupled with a laser that can be used to detect toxins and pathogenic E. coli in food samples, water and a variety of industrial materials, according to a news release.

The Purdue team created a method for combining different heavy metals that, when linked to antibodies, can detect multiple agents in a single analysis. 

The approach uses a high-powered laser pulse to obliterate a sample, while simultaneously collecting the spectral signature of the emission. These signals are then compared with a database to identify a toxin or pathogen.

“The potential for a hand-held device which could go into the field is definitely on our radar, although not yet done,” said J. Paul Robinson, a professor in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine and biomedical engineering professor in Purdue’s College of Engineering. 

“The idea is that the assay technology can be driven to pretty much any location or need,” he said.

Robinson said the technology is not expensive, yet accurate.

The Purdue team’s work is published in the February edition of Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Center for Food Safety Engineering provided funding for the research, in addition to Hatch Funds, which support agricultural research at U.S. land-grant institutions.

The researchers worked with the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the technology in the U.S. and in Europe. 

“We are very excited about the acceptance of the intellectual property, as this will enhance the possibility of finding commercial partners,” Robinson said.

For more information, those interested in becoming partners can contact contact Dipak Narula of the Office of Technology Commercialization at, using reference track code 2019-ROBI-68413.

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