Although their research focuses on E. coli, Syed said the same technology could also detect other pathogens, such as Salmonella and viruses.
"Kansas is a leading state in meat production and the poultry industry," he said. "Any outbreak of pathogens in these industries causes huge financial losses and a lot of health risks. We want to prevent these outbreaks by detecting pathogens at an early stage."
Dielectrophoretic Capture of E. coli at Nanoelectrode Arrays, Syed's recent research poster, was named a winner at the recent Capitol Graduate Research Summit in Topeka. An article on this work has been accepted for publication in the scientific journal Electrophoresis.
Syed's research has focused on developing nanotechnology-based biosensors for pathogen detection and cancer biomarker detection for more than three-and-a-half years. He began the research as a doctoral student under the direction of Li, who has researched nanotechnology for 15 years.
"Nanotechnology is a very exciting area," Li said. "It really provides an opportunity to solve problems for health care and food safety. It can also be helpful for the environment and energy issues."
The project continues work that Li performed at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, where he spent seven years developing nanotechnology. Li came up with the idea of developing a small chip to capture and detect pathogens while working in California.
When Li arrived at K-State in 2007, he continued the biosensor research with Syed. This team is now working on developing biosensors for cancer diagnosis and pathogen detection. The team is using carbon nanofibers, or CNFs, to develop these biosensors because they can form an array of tiny electrodes that is even smaller than bacteria and viruses. When these microbial particles are captured at the electrode surface, an electric signal can be detected.
"A goal is to integrate this technology into a hand-held electronic device for pathogen detection so that we can use this device for in-line monitoring of water quality or food quality at industrial processing sites," Syed said. "We have some preliminary results that indicate this technology is feasible, and I'm quite happy about that."
The project is supported by a Canadian-based company Early Warning Inc., which provided the K-State research team with $240,000 for two years as part of the developmental work. The project was also recently supported by the US Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, or CEEZAD, at K-State.
"We're still working with the company and trying to eventually deliver this as a product to feed the market for water quality monitoring," Li said.