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A new portable biosensor detects traces of contaminants in food more quickly and cheaply

Scientists at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), in cooperation with the CSIC, have developed a new electro-chemical biosensor which detects the presence, in food, of very small amounts of atrazine –one of the most widely used herbicides in agriculture and which also has very long lasting effects on the environment- as well as antibiotics in food. The biosensor is faster, more portable and economic than the expensive laboratory methods which are used to detect contaminants, while having a very similar sensitivity. The system has been tested successfully to detect pesticides in samples of drinking water and commercial orange juice, as well as to detect traces of antibiotics in cow's milk.

The agricultural use of atrazine, and other herbicides based on a chemical substance called triazine, often causes contamination both of underground water and overground water. For this reason food safety agencies have established control measures to prevent these pesticides entering the food chain. Similarly, antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections in domestic animals, such as the case of sulphanilamides in cattle, and even those used to improve growth in farm animals, may contaminate food and be harmful for people. The European Community has established upper limits for the presence of traces of pesticides and antibiotics in food, but the control of these limits is carried out in laboratories with expensive, slow and bulky equipment.

The sensor developed by scientists at the UAB and the CSIC will allow the detection of doses of atrazine at levels of 0.006 micrograms per litre, much lower than the maximum concentrations allowed by European regulations (0.1 micrograms per litre), and this can be done more quickly and cheaply than is the case of the chromatographs which are used today in food safety laboratories. As regards the detection of antibiotics, the sensor has a sensitivity of 1 microgram per litre for whole milk, while the legislation allo
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Source:Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona


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