When Mr. Spock beams down to a planet, he’s carrying a tricorder, a communicator, and a phaser. We just have our cell phones. The University of California Santa Barbara published a paper showing how an inexpensive kit can allow your cell phone to identify pathogens in about an hour. That’s quite a feat compared to the 18-28 hours required by traditional methods. The kit can be produced for under $100, according to the University.
Identifying bacteria type is crucial to prescribing the right antibiotic, although your family doctor probably just guesses because of the amount of time it takes to get an identification through a culture. The system works by taking some — ahem — body fluid and breaking it down using some simple chemicals. Another batch of chemicals known as a LAMP reaction mixture multiplies DNA and will cause fluorescence in the case of a positive result.
You have to dig a little to figure out what’s included in the kit. It appears that in addition to the chemicals, a hot plate, some LEDs, a cardboard box, an optical bandpass filter, and a centrifuge are all there is to it. The chemicals cost about a buck a test, but a typical diagnosis requires multiple tests which could run as much as $15.
There’s software, too, of course. Media reports claim it is available on the Google Play Store, but you won’t find it there. It is however on GitHub. If you need the centrifuge, there are open source designs, some 3D printed ones, or you can sacrifice a VCR.