Who will build the first E. coli tricorder?

I’m into HBO’s Silicon Valley, the parodic look at tech start-up companies that kind of reminds me of the academic world. At the end of season 1, the Pied Piper crew debuts their compression tool at TechCrunch Disrupt – sort of a cross between the Napoleon Dynamite dance scene and Survivor for tech companies. Sort of the same thing that a group of UC Davis folks will go through when they debut a hand-held pathogen detection system.

Marc Pollack, a Ph.D. student in the UC Davis Microbiology graduate group, and Jeremy Warren, a former postdoc in Plant Pathology, leave Davis at 5 a.m. every weekday morning to commute to IndieBio, a startup accelerator in a narrow alley just south of Market Street in the heart of San Francisco.xprize

It’s where, for four months, they will represent the rest of their team and strenuously refine the business idea behind Astrona, a pathogen detection startup that originated as one of 13 UC Davis interdisciplinary research programs funded by a grant from the Office of Research.

The product they are trying to create is a hand-held device that can be used to detect a variety of pathogens—including foodborne pathogens like E. coli—at all stages in the food supply chain, from fields to restaurants. And the detection technology is applicable to broad range of pathogens, offering potential for other uses such as in the medical field.

Astrona’s technology emerged out of a unique interdisciplinary research seed-funding program, Research Investments in Science and Engineering (RISE). In 2012, the university made a bold investment of $10.8 million to fund the RISE program, assembling teams of experts from different disciplines to address global challenges. Astrona arose from one of 13 teams that received funding from the program, bringing together experts in the fields of plant pathology, food science, electrical engineering and computer engineering.

Pollack and Warren have created a detector (although not quite a product prototype) that they are debugging in time for Demo Day, which will take place this summer. All 15 teams in the spring cohort will participate. The event usually draws about a thousand attendees.

Even though it’s still a few months off, Warren says getting ready for the presentation feels very rushed. “Our science works, but we need to be able to get up there and show how it works. We have seven minutes to wow everybody.”

Market microbial food safety: New Australian app to electronically trace meat from paddock to checkout

Developers of a new smartphone application say the app will make it possible to electronically trace livestock from the paddock through the saleyards, abattoirs and eventually the checkout.

star.trek.tricorderThe new software, developed by Aglive and supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, digitally records information throughout the animal’s life, such as on-farm chemicals used and vaccinations.

It is aimed at bolstering Australia’s reputation for food safety.

Aglive director Paul Ryan said most of the information was currently recorded on paper, but using a smartphone or tablet in conjunction with a hand-held scanner would revolutionise the process.

“The problem [right now] is, there is a digital information gap on farms,” Mr Ryan said.

“The quality assurance systems on farms at the moment that are required to allow farmers’ product to enter into domestic and export markets are paper-based.

cattle.data.smartphone“There is no integrated digital solution to capture and validate the data on farms and allow that data to be shared across the supply chain.”

The next step is to make that information available to consumers. Like the best restaurants, the best producers have nothing to hide and will reveal internal testing results.

Tricorder for food safety?

While the original Star Trek television series was heavy on cheese, I enjoyed the more complex morality tales of Star Trek: The Next Generation (as complex as early 1990s TV could get).

And who doesn’t love them some Patrick Stewart.

patrick.stewartIn the fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

A UK based company has unveiled PERES, a handheld device and mobile app which provides information about the freshness and quality of meat, poultry, and fish and protects against food poisoning.

According to the promoters, this portable e-nose and its iOS/Android mobile app enables users to determine the quality, freshness of meat, poultry, and fish and whether it has gone bad and could potentially cause food poisoning.

Users point the PERES at meat and click a button. It works by analysing a sample of the gases for volatile organic compounds and ammonia. Within a few seconds, users receive information on their smartphone or tablet about the food’s freshness, whether it’s been left unrefrigerated and whether there may be a risk of food poisoning.