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Biodegradable Napkin Could Quickly Detect Biohazards

Cornell University scientists have designed a biodegradable absorbent wipe - much like a paper towel - that someday may be used to detect bacteria, viruses and other dangerous substances.

Speaking at the American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, Cornell assistant professor Margaret Frey told reporters that tiny sensors embedded in the material signal the presence of pathogens. "You would swab the area and then add a few drops of another liquid [to the material] or drop it into a little tube of another liquid and get a color change."

Once fully developed, the wipe would contain nanofibers implanted with antibodies that would identify numerous biohazards and chemicals. Frey says Cornell scientists have thus far only tested it on E. coli bacteria. "I think that what is mainly holding us going past one is just resources."

Frey says researchers are currently seeking partners to expand the technology. She predicts it could have widespread appeal especially since it could be produced cheaply and wouldn't require training to use. Frey says applications could extend from meat packing plants and hospitals to airplanes and cruise ships.