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CSIRO develops innovative biosensor technology for the dairy industry

Australia's national science agency, the CSIRO has developed a biosensor platform that could provide the dairy industry with the fast and sensitive detection of contaminants.

The platform has successfully detected proteases in milk at concentrations relevant to industry within a matter of minutes – a fraction of the time it takes using the current industry-standard test. In addition, the same platform has the potential to monitor a range of other natural components and contaminants in milk.

According to Dr Stephen Trowell, leader of the CSIRO’s biosensor research team, proteases in milk can affect the flavour of UHT milk and also cause it to curdle. While the bacteria that cause spoilage are eliminated through heat treatment, proteases can survive the treatment, so accurate and fast detection of these has significant implications for processing as well as product quality and shelf life.

“We’ve achieved fast and accurate detection of proteases in milk, which could give the dairy industry greater confidence in the shelf life of processed products. We would like to apply similar technology to fresh milk, which would not only assist in our domestic market but as we have seen in the media recently could help further open up the possibilities for Australian dairy exports,” said Trowell.

In addition to the efficient detection of proteases, Trowell says that his team is also looking at developing other sensors that could aid in the detection of adulterants such as melamine.

“We are developing a range of other sensors, which in the future we hope could be used to detect things like toxins, pesticide residues or adulterants like melamine.  Whilst the Australian industry produces a very high quality product, being able to quickly substantiate product safety and quality could provide our industry with a competitive advantage in overseas markets.  At the moment we can see a clear path to incorporating these sensors into processing facilities, but down the track they could even be used at the farm gate.”

Trowell says that the sensing platform is based on nature and mimics the function of an animal’s senses of taste and smell, and this Trowell explains, it is this biological basis that makes the sensors a significant achievement for industry.

“Our biosensors are faster and more sensitive than other, chemical alternatives, and don’t rely on a sensing surface, instead, the molecular sensors are mixed with the sample and they flow continuously through a channel. This means that each sensor is used only once and then replaced by others in real time, allowing accurate detection within minutes or even seconds,” Trowell said.

“Already, our technology can measure up to four different chemicals simultaneously from a tiny sample, and with our proof-of-concept studies in milk and other beverages, we are able to talk seriously about the future role of these sensors in beverage production.”

The CSIRO will be presenting the biosensor technology at the international Biosensors 2014 conference in Melbourne this week.

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