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Spore-detecting diving board

Researchers have demonstrated a new way to detect bacteria. The approach could lead to faster and more reliable detection of virulent microbes in the environment.

Most detection systems capture microbes by using an antibody to bind to a region on a pathogen's surface, says Philip S. Low of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. But these regions aren't usually important to the pathogen's survival, so they often mutate, he says. This renders the detection system ineffective.

Low's group instead designed a protein fragment to recognize a region on a microbe's surface that doesn't typically change. In a pathogen, he says, such a site can't be mutated without the microbe losing virulence. So, there's a much lower chance that alterations in the targeted region will defeat the test, says Low.

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