Turkey inspire smartphone apt warns of airborne dangers

January 28, 2014 by  

Turkeys may not be known for being smart, but bioengineers at UC Berkeley have learned a lot from these birds and have used them to develop a new app.

By studying turkeys, specifically the way their skins turn color, scientists have developed an innovative biosensor that warns of chemical vapors by changing colors. Moreover, the color warnings can be specific to the airborne pathogen or toxins being detected.

When turkeys are angry or excited, their skin, noticeable on their head and neck, changes color and can be red, blue, or white. This change is attributed to a change in spacing between collagen fibers when blood vessels interspersed among the fibers swell. The change in spacing between the collagen fibers changes the way light refracts off the skin, making it appear in various colors depending on the bird’s mood.

The iColour Analyser, a mobile app created by the researchers, shows that some toxins can be identified via a smartphone photo showing the color bands associated with the biosensor’s findings. The new system uses M13 bacteriophages, which are a harmless type of virus with the ability to mimic the structures of collagen fibers and self-assemble into patterns as needed. Like the collagen fibers in turkey skin, they swell and shrink, producing color changes that can identify airborne compounds.

Future uses of this technology may include detecting cancer and other diseases by testing the exhalation of an individual. Technological breakthroughs such as this one are the type universities are inclined to ask their printing company to include in their brochures to attract donations, as well as the most talented instructors and students.