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"Going Viral" -- The Discovery Files

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Norovirus causes 20 million cases of food poisoning in the US every year. Now, a smartphone can easily detect this gut-busting microbe -- hopefully before it gets you.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Gut-wrenching.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Norovirus: I've got a gut feeling the mere mention of this microbe might make ya feel queasy. It's responsible for 20 million cases of food poisoning in the U.S. every year. (Sound effect: ship's horn) Plaguing cruise ships, (Sound effect: hospital paging system) visiting hospitals, (Sound effect: class change sounds) showing up for class in schools and making water wells (Sound effect: drip!) -- unwell. Trouble is, detecting and identifying norovirus takes a lab and expensive diagnostic gear. Until now.

A team at the University of Arizona has created a whole new way to detect extremely low levels of norovirus. It's simple, portable, inexpensive; it uses paper and a smartphone microscope.

The process starts with adding potentially contaminated water to one end of a special paper chip. To the other end the tester adds tiny fluorescent polystyrene beads with norovirus antibodies attached. If the virus is present, the antibodies attach to each virus particle and create a clump of beads. The team's app counts those clumped beads and determines the number of norovirus particles in the sample.

The researchers are looking to expand their easy-to-use method to detection of other diseases or harmful chemicals.

First thing I'd check is the employee refrigerator.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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