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Mobile phone as bacteria sensor?

Discovery on mobile phones of microbes commonly found on people's bodies opens up potential for gadget's use as sensors.
Last modified: 24 Jun 2014 22:29

New research has found that mobile phones could be used as non-invasive health and bacterial sensors.

The United Nations says six out of seven people on the planet have access to a mobile phone.

That's why researchers from University of Oregon in the US tested the hands and phones of 17 people.

They looked at 7,000 different naturally occurring microbes commonly found on people's bodies.

They found 82 percent of the microbes on their hands were also present on their phones, and the collection was unique to that person.

"Each person's cellphone has more in common with him or her than with anyone else in the room,” James Meadow, lead researcher in the study, says.

"My cellphone has some of the very unique bacteria that I have in and on my body and that don't show up necessarily in your body. And your phone has that same signal that is personalised to you."

Real-time screening

The discovery opens up the potential to use mobile phones as bacterial and environmental sensors.

This could include real-time screening of the smartphones of health-care workers and hospital visitors, rather than the people themselves.

"In the foreseeable future we might have some sort of device in a hospital, where a nurse or a doctor at the end of the day can put their cellphone down and, in the matter of a few minutes, they'll know whether there's a good risk of taking dangerous pathogens out of the hospital home to their families or in the beginning of the day, bringing something into the hospital," Meadow says.

And the technology could be taken a step further.

The researchers say if a personal microbe analysis unit was built into new smartphones, it could allow the devices to alert the owner when they have been exposed to harmful microbes or environmental threats.

They say it could be collected and used to track the spread of disease within a community.

In the near future technology will certainly be good enough to give us real-time sequencing, and we have basically our computers trained on finding certain biological threats.

This is exactly the sort of technology that might be able to integrate our personal micro biome - our mobile phones and the bacteria that we carry around on our possession.