The US Navy is partnering with researchers at the University of Houston to investigate the use of glow sticks in detecting biothreats. This collaboration aims to repurpose glow sticks, typically associated with more “recreational” pursuits, into tools for identifying poisons and viruses.
Led by Binh Vu and Katerina Kourentzi, the research team discovered the viability of using glow sticks in biothreat detection. By harnessing the bright light emitted during a chemical reaction, bio-targets can be illuminated, enabling their easy identification. The team developed a prototype lateral flow test, akin to COVID-19 or pregnancy tests, which detects the presence of toxins or proteins and produces a visible reaction.
The procedure involves swabbing a surface, adding the sample to a test cassette, and activating it with liquid glow reagent droplets. Placing the cassette inside a 3D printed “dark box” allows for detection using a camera or smartphone app, providing results in just 15 minutes at a cost of approximately $2 per box.
The US Navy’s interest in this technology stems from its affordability and simplicity, offering deployable biothreat identification solutions adaptable to various scenarios, from public health emergencies to military operations.
Dr. Jessica L. McNulty of the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery emphasizes the partnership’s potential to enhance biodefense capabilities. Dr. Richard Willson highlights the broader implications of the technology, including applications in medical testing and environmental monitoring. Prototypes will undergo validation testing by the US Navy, showcasing the value of interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing urgent challenges.
Thanks to this research, glow sticks have emerged as promising tools at the intersection of science, innovation, and practical application, transitioning from party favors to critical instruments in biothreat detection.
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