Researcher with DETECT test samples

Tara deBoer holds urine samples that were added to the DETECT solution, which turns yellow when antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present. Current plating methods (shown in red dish) cannot rapidly identify bacterial drug resistance. (Photo by Stephen McNally / Berkeley News; inset photo by Adriel Olmos)

Detecting superbugs

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains kill as many as 700,000 people worldwide each year. But now, a test developed by Berkeley researchers can quickly identify these so-called “superbugs,” helping doctors prescribe effective antibiotics and possibly limiting the spread of these dangerous pathogens. Called DETECT, the test uses a patient’s urine sample to diagnose antibiotic-resistant infections by identifying enzymes called beta-lactamases, the molecular signature of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The test works in a matter of minutes, does not require expensive instrumentation and is simple enough to be applied in a point-of-care setting — unlike other available techniques. The team, including scientists from the lab of bioengineering professor Niren Murthy as well as researchers from the School of Public Health, are working to perfect the technique so that it can also be used to detect specific strains of bacteria as well as bacteria in blood samples. Eventually, they hope to commercialize the technology into a rapid diagnostic device that works in a multitude of medical settings.


Topics: Bioengineering, Devices & inventions, Health, Research


Reach the editors at berkeleyengineer@berkeley.edu