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Flu chip fights pig plague

Pick your pandemic

As swine-flu mania continues to suck up every available nanosecond of fear-mongering media maundering, one small company has developed a sure-fire way to detect the potent piggy pathogen.

CombiMatrix, a biotech firm in Mukilteo, Washington, announced Friday that it has updated the microarray in its Influenza A Detection System to identify the pesky H1N1 virus that's been causing all the trouble.

And they did it quickly. According to the company, they updated their microarray within within one day of receiving information on the genetic sequence of the new strain.

The company's Influenza A Detection System isn't limited to detecting evil swine sequences. CombiMatrix says that it can identify any known flu variant, including "novel strains" produced by rapid mutation or recombinations of multiple strains.

For example, the system can identify such celebrity viruses as the formerly fearsome bird flu, 1968's pandemic Hong Kong flu, the current swine flu's 1976 evil twin, and the highly successful - from its point of view - virus that killed around 50 million people in 1918.

The old saw that with every crisis comes opportunity is certainly true for CombiMatrix. The company has lost money each of the past four years, pulling in a mere $6.3m (£4.2m) in sales in 2008.

Perhaps a worldwide flu pandemic is just what the doctor ordered. ®

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