Detecting the undetectable
2008 R&D 100 Winner
Until now, scientists have had no fully accurate, comprehensive way of detecting the presence, quantity, and diversity of bacteria—including microbes and pathogens—in air, water, soil, or clinical samples. Researchers relied on bacterial cultures to identify what was present in such a sample, but the problem with this method, in addition to the time that growing a culture requires, is that it leaves out all of the organisms that can’t survive in the culture, which could be as much as 99% of the bacteria in the sample. All of that has changed with the Berkeley Lab PhyloChip, a DNA microarray that quickly, comprehensively, and accurately identifies species within microbial samples from any environmental source, without any culturing required.
Developed by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Calif., the PhyloChip easily fits into a person’s hand and detects most known microorganisms, testing for more than 8,000 bacterial species. Its ability to produce results in a matter of hours means that numerous samplings of a specific environment can be conducted virtually on a daily basis, enabling scientists to track the progress of a certain microorganism over a short period of time.