A breathalyzer for cocaine?

Scientists have built a rudimentary handheld drug detector that can sense cocaine through masking agents in blood, dirt and food, according to a report from LiveScience.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, developed the portable device with an internal engine lined with a DNA molecule called an aptamer, which stiffens and folds when it enounters cocaine. When an electronic signal is passed through the fast-acting device, the aptamers will bind to the cocaine and allow electrons to pass through more readily, according to the report.

Typically, cocaine tests take hours in a lab. Tests that police use in the field can also be scotched by substances drug dealers mix with cocaine. The prototype of the new device has so far detected cocaine through a variety of mixers, such as coffee and mustard powder; and its ability to pick up traces of cocaine in blood or salvia make it feasible that it could one day be used as a cocaine-alyzer (similar to a breathalyzer test for alcohol), according to the report.

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    Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.

     

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