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"Allergenie" -- The Discovery Files

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Researchers at UCLA have developed a lightweight device called the iTube, which attaches to a common cell phone to detect allergens in food samples.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Food sleuth.

I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: running, jumping hurdles) To those with food allergies, eating is like running an obstacle course. There could be traces of peanut, hidden gluten or egg any number of allergens that could cause a variety of reactions--life-threatening for some. You can't test for everything--you'd need to have the lab there with you. UCLA engineers might say--"we've got an app for that." It's a platform--a way to use a smart phone to test food for allergens. It's called the I-tube--it weighs less than two ounces and attaches to a smart phone. It works using an allergen test known as colorimetric assay.

(Sound effect: drive-thru speaker) May I test your order please? The food sample is ground up and placed in a test tube, and certain liquids are added. The kit then digitally converts images from the cell phone camera into concentration measurements, that tell you if--and how much--of an allergen is present. The UCLA team successfully tested for allergen content in commercial brands of cookies.

The developers envision these units in operation in schools, restaurants, and other public settings, and say the platform could be of huge benefit to consumers, food manufacturers and policy makers. Allergen tests on demand--gives new meaning to 'phoning in your order.'

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's national science foundation. Federally sponsored research--brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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