Magazine article Science News

Microbial Mug Shots: Telltale Patterns Finger Bad Bacteria

Magazine article Science News

Microbial Mug Shots: Telltale Patterns Finger Bad Bacteria

Article excerpt

In their everyday battles against harmful bacteria, physicians, food producers, and others need to know quickly which foe they're facing. Yet the procedures currently used to identify bacterial colonies are often time-consuming and expensive.

Technicians must wait hours or days for suspect bacteria to grow into a colony for testing in a laboratory. However, by taking a picture of a colony with laser light, a new technique created by Bartlomiej Rajwa of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and his colleagues identifies the colony without further delay.

In their method, the researchers shine a laser beam through a petri dish dotted with bacterial colonies, project an image of one colony at a time on a screen, and record that image with a digital camera. This approach requires no stains or costly custom chemicals, the team reports. The components of the prototype device are inexpensive, so the technology could be widely affordable.

The researchers describe their prototype system and initial results in the current, May/June Journal of Biomedical Optics.

Identifying tiny biological entities from patterns of scattered light isn't new. For instance, widely used machines called flow cytometers distinguish and count various human-cell types by using light scattered as cells pass through alaser beam, notes biophysicist Robert M. Zucker of the Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

To differentiate colonies of bacteria about 2 millimeters across by the complex light patterns they create, the Purdue team devised a method similar to automated face recognition. …

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