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Toxin-detecting paper gets funding from the feds

New bio-active paper could detect toxins potentially found in food, water and the air.


February 15, 2011
by Matt Powell

HAMILTON‑Toxin detecting, Canadian-invented bioactive paper could come to market sooner after a $7.5‑million investment by the federal government to fund research by the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Strategic Network.

“This paper has generated enormous interest and Sentinel is working with industry partners towards pilot scale production of the sensors,” said Robert Pelton, scientific director of Sentinel and professor of chemical engineering at McMaster.

The network includes 28 researchers at 10 Canadian universities and five industrial partners working with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the National research Council and Ontario Centres of Excellence. About 50 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and undergraduate students are involved in the research.

The project is currently in its pilot stage and will develop bioactive paper using chemical or biological impregnated paper to detect toxins in food, water and air. In Canada, the paper would likely detect toxins like listeria, salmonella and e-coli.

Pelton says marketing analysis has determined that initial applications for the new paper will appear in industrial operations, because the sensors will be simple enough to use that extensive employee training won’t be necessary.

“In its simplest form, you would dip the bioactive paper in some form of fluid and a colour coded system would determine what kind of toxin had infected the product,” says Pelton.

These applications could be especially useful in food manufacturing operations dealing with products from less-regulated countries.

Pelton says the paper is currently being produced in a printing process. The bio-detection molecules are printed on to the paper and detect contamination at molecular levels.

He added the printing process will likely become standard because incorporating the bio-detectors into the pulp and paper manufacturing process can damage the fragile sensors.

Eventually, Pelton hopes to attach the sensors will be able to be attached to packaging like milk cartons and meat trays for quick detection of spoiled food and dangerous toxins.