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Brief Published: 16 Apr 2015

Print-At-Home Biosensors

Researchers at McMaster University have printed sensors that can test for bacteria such as E. coli

Domestic printers could soon be used to print smart sensors that can identify contaminated food, infectious diseases or other biological threats.

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada have developed a new way to print paper biosensors to simplify the diagnosis of bacterial infections.

The system allows inkjet printers to print paper strips that can identify the presence of multiple types of harmful bacteria, including E. coli, Salmonella and Clostridium difficile.

The test is created using a bio-ink made from man-made DNA molecules and printed using a basic office printer. "The simplicity of use makes the system easy and cheap to implement in the field or in the doctor's office," says John Brennan, director of McMaster's Biointerfaces Institute.

While it has plenty of potential commercial applications, it could take at least three years for the tests to obtain governmental approval for public use, according to Brennan.

The research could be used to display warnings on food packaging, provide doctors with a tool for real-time infection diagnosis and enable low-cost environmental testing of food production sites. The tests could also be adapted to measure water quality in parks, leisure centres and beaches.

Advances in biological and conductive inks are paving the way for low-cost creative technologies. In March 2015, scientists at Saarland University in Germany developed a platform that could allow anyone to print their own flexible touchscreens – see Printable Touchscreens for more.

To discover more groundbreaking methods of disease detection, see Lions Health 2014 and Wired Health 2014.