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New device detects drugs from fingerprints

A handheld unit designed for police and security agencies uses nanoparticles to search for indications of illicit partying.

The power of self-incrimination is now at your fingertips, thanks to a new device out of the U.K. that can test for drugs in a person's system simply by taking a fingerprint.

Intelligent Fingerprinting

The technology developed by Intelligent Fingerprinting, a spin-off company from the University of East Anglia in in Norwich, England, can simultaneously confirm a subject's identity and detect the presence of a number of drugs, including cocaine, cannabis, methadone, and nicotine.

The tip-off to the presence of drugs has less to do with the actual fingerprints, and more with the sweat that is secreted through the pores of the fingertips and then detected using dyed antibodies. Those antibodies are applied to the fingertips via gold nanoparticles on the device.

The antibodies stick to metabolites secreted through the pores when a person is under the influence. In other words, if a subject's fingerprint turns a bright, pretty color, it could mean an extended conversation with law enforcement.

The device, which is expected to be available this year, represents a significant advance for detecting whether a driver is under the influence, which usually requires more invasive testing and produces results that can often be easily tainted. The whole testing process can take as little as 15 minutes, which coincidentally is about the time required to concoct a story about your roommate's hilarious practical joke involving switching the baking soda with his stash.

(Via New Scientist)