Assistant Professor Sanjeev Narayanan has revealed that he and his microbiologist colleague Greg Peterson use a device called a DNA spotted microarray to seek out the specific genetic markers that set one pathogen apart from another, and determine antibiotic resistance.
While traditional tests involve multiple workers and take days to screen a sample of soil, water or faeces for just one pathogen and antibiotic resistance, the new test simultaneously looks for multiple diseases and antibiotic resistance, say the researchers.
Narayanan reckons that such a test can reduce the time it takes from sampling to diagnosis to about 24 hours.
"We needed a mass, high through-put system. The longer a serious disease goes undiagnosed, the harder it is to treat and the further it can spread," he says.
The researchers say that presently they have the ability to detect as many as 557 genes that can help them screen for 40 different species of bacteria, 1,200 serotypes of Salmonella, five common serotypes of E. coli, and resistance to the 45 most common antibiotics used to treat human and animal illnesses caused by such pathogens.
Narayanan believes that the new test may be helpful in quickly identifying any bacterial pathogens during a bioterrorist attack.
"Being able to get such quick results for so many pathogens at once will become critical in case of bioterrorism. Under that scenario, every minute counts in providing treatment or preventing disease spread," he says.
Narayanan has revealed that the next of his team will be to develop a test that indicates how much of a pathogen is present, or rather how bad an infection is.