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'Unfoolable' portable cocaine detector invented

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A team at notorious 'party school' UC Santa Barbara in California has developed a portable cocaine sensor. Researchers worked on the technology with local high school students as part of a summer intern programme.

The researchers say their DNA-based system bests current methods for detecting the drug, which involve lab work that can take hours, if not days, and can easily be fooled. The new engineered DNA on the sensor adopts a folded structure in the presence of Columbian nose candy.

Associate Professor Kevin Plaxco warned drug lords: "Our sensor can detect cocaine no matter what they have cut it with: powdered sugar, flour, or the coffee that is sometimes used to mask the smell from dogs."

In its current incarnation, the sensor can detect the devil's dandruff in bodily fluids down to a few micromolars - equivalent to dropping a kilo of cocaine into an olympic-size swimming pool, the team reckon. One has to wonder whether that's grant money well spent, however, as apparently it's still not sensitive enough for practical use.

The aim now is to improve the sensitivity of the test, and expand the same technology to detect other molecules. "Cocaine is just the tip of the iceberg," Plaxco explained.

One of the students, Elaine Doctor, who wants to be, er, a doctor, said: "I felt honoured to help America's war on drugs." ®

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