March: BiodefenseWater monitoring system to be demonstrated in Congress technology fair

Published 31 March 2008

The House Committee on Homeland Security is holding a homeland security technology fair at the Rayburn building on Wednesday; a water bioterror monitoring system will be on display, and caught our eye

Congress wants to educate its members about homeland security technologies — and one way to do so is by having a technology fair right in Rayburn House Office Building. If you happen to be in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, 2 April, you may want to take a look. The official title is U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security’s Technology Fair on Detecting and Responding to Bioterrorism, and the fair is open to the public. One technology on display caught our eye: Fremont, California-based Microfluidic Systems (MFSI),along with its manufacturing partner, United Technology’s HamiltonSundstrand Corporation, will be demonstrating the Microfluidic Bioagent Autonomous Networked Detector (M-BAND). MFSI was founded in 2001 and is focused on the development of microfluidic systems for automated preparation of biological assays. MFSI has been

involved with the development of automated DNA-based pathogen detection systems and microfluidics for the U.S. government and commercial markets for more than twelve years now, including the world’s first miniaturized, portable, battery-operated, real-time, polymerase-chain-reaction (PCR)-based detection system.

The M-BAND runs autonomously for up to thirty days, continuously analyzing air samples for the detection of bacteria, viruses, and toxins with results in as little as two hours. Results from individual instruments are reported via a secure wireless network in real time to give an accurate and up to date status for fielded instruments in aggregate. Designed for either outdoor or indoor environments, the M-BAND will operate from -25 to 125 ºF. The M-BAND uses the TaqMan Real-Time PCR with an end-point read and toxin immunoassays which are well-established in the field for optimal specificity and sensitivity. M-BAND can be remotely set to detect for DNA-based pathogens alone, with or without either RNA-based organisms or toxins, or for all three types of pathogens simultaneously at remotely programmable intervals. The company says that air collection rates of 400L/min have been achieved providing 10 mL of concentrated fluidic sample to the detection system. Sample processing time includes: 60 minutes lysis and purification and a thermal cycling rate of 1.2 min/cycle. The typical time for combined sample processing and detection is 120 minutes assuming 50 thermal cycles. Toxin analysis time is 40 minutes. The pathogen detection assays currently implemented include Bacillus anthracis spores, Yersinia pestis bacteria, VEE virus, and botulinum, SEB and Ricin toxins including an internal bacterial positive control. The current platform supports more than 70 RNA/DNA targets via multiplexing. The highest degree of specificity is provided by multiple gene targets per organism via multiplex TaqMan Real-Time PCR, and monoclonal antibody-based toxin detection.

Water for human consumption and irrigation is becoming a major problem as global warming causes ice caps to melt and fresh water resources to dwindle. Last week, the U.K. intelligence agencies submitted their annual National Strategy report (equivalent of the U.S. NIE) to Prime Minister Gordon Brown — and in the document they warn that within the next decade we will be witnessing the eruption of what the report calls “water wars”: Countries going to war with each other not over territory or oil, but over water resources.

As water becomes more scarce and precious, the need to monitor water quality against terrorist-planted pathogens becomes even more pressing.