Living Systems

Bacterial/Viral Detection/Screening

Technical Applications


Rapid identification of bacterial and viral contamination is becoming more important because of newly emerging viruses and the re-emergence of old diseases such as bubonic plague, tuberculosis, and cholera.


In contrast to the 1918 influenza epidemic which took 30 days to spread globally in the days of steam ships, present estimates for worldwide spread are on the order of less than seven days. Public water supply contamination has been reported on the increase with presently installed water processing facilities unable to assure the water quality released downstream, and subsequent re-uptake for public water supply unable to filter adequately and remove the viral burden. Improved methods are also needed for assuring a safe, uncontaminated food supply. Hospital infections, their etiology, prevention, and control could also benefit from more rapid techniques for differential identification of both bacterial and viral presence. Similarly, antibiotics could be more selectively prescribed with an effective, economic antibiotic susceptibility testing system. Rapid detection and identification of bacterial and viral contaminants is also an issue in an era of the rapid deployment of troops into remote regions for either peacekeeping or regional conflict resolution. In this case both air and waterborne contaminants are of concern as is the provision of s safe water supply. The value of improved systems to dealing with the treat of biologic warfare agents does not require further comment. A range of techniques ranging from the less selective such as bioluminescence based on the presence of ATP and electroconductance methods of bacterial detection to highly specific antibody techniques have been demonstrated under laboratory conditions. Yet a broad spectrum, high sensitivity system with real-time or near real time response is not available for bacteria much less for viruses.


The need for an effective global surveillance and reporting systems cannot be overstated. Bacterial/viral detection and screening technologies would contribute to the health of the U.S. population by assuring a safe water and food supply, reducing hospital acquired infections, and improving the effectiveness of antibiotic therapy in the face of increasingly resistant antibiotic strains. They would contribute to economic growth by contributing to global trade in agricultural products. They would contribute to the improvement in environmental quality by improving the ability to monitor and thus control the discharge of contaminated water into rivers and streams. Bacterial/viral detection and screening would also improve the ability of the U.S. military to carry out its missions. These technologies would provide support for troops in remote regions without water supplies of known quality and would also provide an early warning system against biological warfare agents.


There are no clear cut leaders in this area although the Japanese biosensor work and U.S. work of applying monoclonal antibodies hold considerable promise. While the breadth of the Japanese program is quite extensive with over 50 systems having been announced, and they are being developed for both food process monitoring and human health applications, the actual progress and performance is difficult to assess until they are released for independent testing.