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New sensor can ID dangerous bacteria

After the recent events of bioterrorism, quick detection of microbes has become imperative. To that end, researchers have devised a new sensor that differentiates between two major classes of bacteria. Soon, sensors of the same general design might detect individual types of bacteria–including those that cause foodborne illnesses, anthrax, and the plague.

To make the detectors, Benjamin L. Miller of the University of Rochester in New York and his colleagues created organic molecules called TWTCPs. They bind to a compound, known as lipid A, in the cell walls of so-called gram-negative bacteria.

Next, the researchers chemically bonded TWTCP to the internal and external surfaces of a quarter-size wafer of porous silicon. They expected that gram-negative bacteria would bind to the TWTCP and subtly change the wafer's color by their presence in its pores, whereas so-called gram-positive bacteria wouldn't bind because they don't contain lipid A.

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