Wed, Mar 31, 2010 - Page 2 News List

Small DNA chip detects slew of harmful allergens

NO MORE WHEEZINGStarting in May, a NT$100 chip developed by the EPA will be used in elementary schools and kindergartens to test for mold and airborne bacteria

By Jenny W. hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

A technician peers at a chip that can detect 21 kinds of airborne allergens, with cultures in a petri dish in the background, at the launch of the new advanced chip at the ­Environmental Protection Administration in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: CNA

A thumb-sized chip could be the answer to people who suffer from indoor pollutants.

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday unveiled the world’s first DNA chip capable of detecting 21 types of harmful and allergenic bacteria within three to five days. Measuring 8mm by 7mm, the electrical hybridization chip is smaller than a NT$1 coin. The chip contains 21 probes, each containing the DNA elements of the 21 bacteria ­considered dangerous to humans.

Developed by the EPA and National Cheng Gung University, the chip can detect harmful air-borne bacteria, such as aspergillus flavus, aspergillus versicolor and chaetomium globosum, which are known to cause allergic reactions such as coughing, sneezing and runny noses.

EPA Environmental Analysis Laboratory Chief Hung Wen-tsung (洪文宗) said the chip has 98 percent accuracy, adding that the EPA was in the process of applying for a patent.

Starting in May, 30 elementary schools and kindergartens will be tested for mold pollution using the device.

Hung said that a petri dish is placed in a sampling pump to collect an air sample for a period of between 10 minutes and 20 minutes.

The cultural sample with the bacteria particles is then compared with strains of pathogen present in various bacteria. A matching strain indicates the presence of such bacteria in the air, he said.

The entire process can be completed within three to five days, he said, adding that this was a major improvement from a previous model, developed in 2008, which could only detect 10 target bacteria in one month.

The chip costs about NT$100 and can be reused, Hung said.

While the chip does not provide qualitative information such as the density of bacteria in the air, such a function “is our goal for the future,” Hung said.

The EPA said the average person spends between 80 percent and 90 percent of his or her time indoors and household allergens have become one of the biggest problems for urban dwellers.

Early detection of harmful bacteria in the air could alert schools and teachers of the need to clean up their classrooms, especially ­often-ignored corners where mold accumulates, Hung said.

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