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Liquid crystal droplets discovered to be exquisitely sensitive to an important bacterial lipid
Date:5/20/2011

changes in the liquid crystalline droplets would be due to the adsorption of the endotoxin to the surfaces of the droplets, but the concentration was too low to justify this explanation. So Abbott and his graduate students I-Hsin Lin and Dan Miller along with colleagues in the NSF-sponsored UW-Madison Materials Research Science and Engineering Center determined that "the transition was not driven by adsorption of endotoxin over the surface of the liquid crystalline droplet, but instead by localization of the endotoxin at defects in the liquid crystal droplets."

The localization of impurities to defects is "ubiquitous" in material science, Abbott says, "and it appears that a similar phenomenon is occurring here, which then triggers the transition in the liquid crystal droplet. This is a fundamentally different mechanism that gives rise to a level of sensitivity which is 10,000 to 100,000 higher than surface-driven transitions seen in past studies of liquid crystalline systems, and it suggests the basis for a very high level of sensitivity in detection." Abbott also comments that "defect-driven ordering transitions in liquid crystalline systems have not been reported previously, and it is also highly surprising that it is so specific to the particular structure of endotoxin."

The defect-driven phenomenon that Abbott found could be more broadly applicable than endotoxin, but he says "endotoxin in itself is pretty important. Endotoxin comes from the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria, and is considered a key indication of bacterial infection." Animal immune systems themselves are tuned to respond to endotoxin, Abbott says, and the Food and Drug Administration requires testing for endotoxin on equipment used to make vaccines, drugs, intravenous fluids and many other devices and materials.

The current FDA-approved test for endotoxin is based on the blood of horseshoe crabs, which have evolved to combat infection by clotting their blood in
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Contact: Nicholas Abbott
abbott@engr.wisc.edu
608-265-5278
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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