Field Notes

Smart Label Spots Food Spoilage Before It Happens

A bite of bad yogurt or sip of spoiled milk could be a thing of the past thanks to a new sensor developed by Silvana Andreescu, PhD. The innovative “smart label” is a low-cost, portable, paper-based sensor that can determine when food or cosmetics spoil and has the ability to transform the commercial marketplace.

Through the use of nanostructures, the sensors catch and bind the predetermined compounds to distinguish change. To test a sample, researchers simply add it to the reactive surface.

How far beyond expiration the item is can be detected based on the intensity of the transformation, which is emitted as a color or electrical change. It’s a simple innovation that could tell consumers when the quality of the product changes—even if the item is past its “best before” date.

“If the target is present, the color or electrical current changes,” says Andreescu, a professor of chemistry and biomolecular science and Egon Matijevic Chair of Chemistry at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York. “These changes indicate whether the compound is present and in what quantity, and whether there are changes in the initial composition.”

The technology took about 10 years to develop. Andreescu worked closely with a team of Clarkson students and postdoctoral associates who contributed to the development of the smart label technology through material design, sensing aspects, optimization, testing, and prototyping. The final product, Andreescu says, was definitely a team effort.

While initial testing was focused on detecting antioxidants in tea and wine, “This platform technology can be applied many different ways,” according to Andreescu, who notes that these first-generation sensors are only the beginning.

Currently, the team is working on their second-generation sensors to extend the application range, which include pesticides, adulterants, and markers for freshness or spoilage in various stages of testing.

“We would really like to get this technology into the hands of consumers and continue to expand it to measure other toxins and pathogens,” Andreescu says.

Andreescu’s research is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation and has sparked the interest of major science and media publications with recent coverage in Food & Wine magazine and on Futurism.com. Her research was presented during the 254th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

— Source: Clarkson University


Adequate Sleep May Improve Wound Healing

Getting more sleep may help wound healing, and a nutrition supplement also may help, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Physical and emotional stress and poor nutrition have been found to weaken the immune system. Previous studies suggest that boosting nutrients such as vitamin C, omega-3s, and other amino acids reduces inflammation and speeds postsurgical healing.

Researchers examined healing time (skin barrier restoration) and immune response in the following three groups of volunteers:

  • One group slept two hours per night for three consecutive nights and consumed the recommended dietary allowance for dietary protein, along with a nonnutritive drink twice per day (“sleep-restricted placebo”).
  • A second group slept two hours per night for three consecutive nights and consumed a higher amount of protein along with a nutritional supplement beverage twice per day (“sleep-restricted nutrition”).
  • A control group slept normally for the three nights (“control”).

The research team collected fluid from superficial wounds on the volunteers’ arms. Each day the researchers measured the amount of immune markers present in the fluid and the wounds’ skin-barrier restoration rate.

The wound fluid from the sleep-restricted nutrition group contained higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines—a substance that’s released by immune cells—during wound recovery when compared with the other volunteers. This suggests that the nutritional drink may boost immune response at the wound site. Both sleep-restricted groups’ healing time was delayed by almost a full day when compared with the control group. However, there were no differences in skin-barrier restoration between the two sleep-restricted groups. “The failure of the nutrition intervention to affect skin-barrier recovery was surprising, given the higher concentrations of proinflammatory cytokines at the wound sites during the initial phase of wound healing in participants who received the nutrition intervention relative to those who received the placebo,” according to the research team.

Although the results weren’t entirely as expected, the study may have practical implications in people—including military personnel and medical professionals—for whom inadequate sleep may be unavoidable. During times of sleep deprivation, maintaining a higher protein intake and consuming additional immune-enhancing vitamins and minerals may help boost the immune response. However, according to the study authors, more research is needed.

— Source: American Physiological Society