Near-Field Communication-Enabled Precision Molecular Diagnostics for Smartphones
Firat Guder and Tony Cass of Imperial College London in the United Kingdom along with George Mahuku and James Legg at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Tanzania will develop a smartphone-based electrochemical lateral flow assay to rapidly diagnose crop viruses in the field and relay the results. Viral crop diseases like maize lethal necrosis and cassava brown streak disease can destroy up to 30% of crops and are the main threat to food security in East Africa. Most diagnostic tests are laboratory-based and slow, hampering efforts to stop the diseases from spreading. They will develop a system that combines cutting edge chemistry and widely-used smartphone technology to quickly test field samples and upload the results to the cloud for immediate sharing with farmers and agricultural partners. Their approach is based on chemical amplification and detection of nucleic acid aptamers: as few as a hundred virus particles can be detected without the need for complex genetics or fragile and expensive antibodies. They will identify aptamers that selectively recognize the viruses, optimize the lateral flow assay in the lab, and then field-test it in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once validated, they plan to develop a simpler, disposable version and scale-up the technology to other crops and countries.