A gene from a firefly has been added to mammalian cells so that they glow when exposed to the toxin, dioxin, and the cells glow brighter as the level of dioxin increases, making them a quick and simple test for the chemical in foods, animal feeds, and tissue.
The technology owned by Xenobiotics, has been liscensed by the Belgium government for the detection of Dioxin-like chemicals, which are the by-products of the making and burning of products containing chlorine in processed animal feed, food and tissue samples. Dioxin was in Agent Orange and was a contaminant at Love Canal.
Xenobiotics’ technology detects the presence of dioxins, PCBs and dibenzofurans, which are man-made compounds called polychlorinated diaromatic hydrocarbons (PCDHs). The genetically engineered mammalian cell lines produce luciferase, an enzyme found in fireflies that causes the cells glow like a firefly in the presence of the chemicals. The laboratory is now analyzing samples for levels of dioxin-like chemicals, which are routinely found in the environment and are known to cause birth defects, immunotoxicity, tumors, changes in metabolism, and even death.
In the US, Xenobiotics is pursuing validation of its dioxin assay with the FDA, the Department of Agriculture, the EPA, and the Centers for Disease Control.
Development of the new technology was supported under a Small Business Innovation Research Grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C., one of the National Institutes of Health.
The system is an alternative to gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry, but is more rapid and less expensive, testing up to 50 samples per hour for about $400 per sample, compared to one sample per hour at $1,500 per sample. It can be used for air, water, soil, or biological samples. For example, the Belgium lab plans to use the system for feed, food and tissue samples.