New Technology Helps Test for Malnutrition in Children

Testing for life-threatening nutrient deficiencies should be available for anyone who needs it and can help others. Many aid workers in remote villages need to prick a toddler’s fingertip because they are sick. When the child is sick, the blood sample turns yellow on the test strip. If an experimental malnutrition test was made with bacterial innards, it could work one day to expose widespread zinc deficiencies blamed for roughly half a million deaths annually. The innards include plasmids, which are loops of DNA. These are not the same DNA strands that are behind reproduction and cell construction.

There is some new technology that has shown high potential as a basis for an inexpensive, easy malnutrition test for use in the field that could be expanded to include many vital nutrients and other health indicators. The new, experimental test is freeze-dried to a powder that is kept at everyday temperatures, could be read in the field, and may be suitable for precise analysis with an applicable smartphone app. The test not only detects zinc but also quantifies its clinically relevant levels, which is necessary to detect malnourishment and is one of the new test’s main innovations.Two billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, which claim millions of lives each year. Stopping malnutrition is a highly tricky problem to fix. In this study, the qualification of zinc ions was the proof of concept plans to measure many small molecules relevant to in-field tests. The researchers could quickly expand the test to assess levels of the six vital micronutrients, that are highly relevant to nutritional fieldwork.

The ease of use of the experimental zinc test stands in stark contrast to the labors required to engineer it. The researchers started off using live bacteria that change colors in reaction to zinc. Cell-free approaches allow bacterial innards to be dosed like compounds in a chemical reaction, making the test predictable, reliable, and suitable for standardization. The researchers built two plasmids to drive the test’s processes. The test uses a signal molecule that is partly a big sugar and starts out yellow, but once the plasmid makes an enzyme that cleaves the sugar, the molecule turns purple. Zinc levels regulate how much enzyme is made. The zinc regulated how the plasmids alter the color in the actual test that the researchers did. The test and the plasmid-varied calibration points both received the serum to be tested, and the clutter shifted the test and the calibration points in an identical manner. Changing the color of the test could be accurately compared to the colors of the calibration points to ascertain zinc levels.The colors are in the visible range, not fluorescent, so they require no device to read. The speed of color change could reveal more detail about nutrient levels, perhaps via an analysis of smartphone video taken of the test.

The test should be implemented more so that when someone experiences life-threatening nutrient deficiencies, they are able to know. The tests and studies that are being done to help others learn about their deficiencies will hopefully be able to help people know what they are deficient in and how they can get more of that nutrient in their system. The tests and studies listed above can make improvements to health concerns and will hopefully tell people what defect they suffer from.

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Biology Teacher

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