Symphony project uses photonics to detect toxins in milk

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A four-year project that began in November is combining a variety of technologies, including photonics, in a miniaturised system that will perform low-cost detection of contaminants in milk. The Symphony project, which has been funded by the EU and several other institutions, aims to overcome the cost and time constraints of existing technology used to detect the same toxins in milk.

Mycotoxins that originate from animal feed can contaminate milk and dairy produce. These toxins, in particular aflatoxin M1, a potent carcinogen, represent a danger to human health and a major economic loss for the dairy industry. Current aflatoxin detection methods are laboratory based and require sample preparation; therefore they do not give timely identification of the toxin or cost-effective management of the contaminated milk.

The Symphony project (Integrated System based on Photonic Microresonators and Microfluidic Components for rapid detection of toxins in milk and dairy products) aims to incorporate various technologies, encompassing photonics, microfluidics and system integration, in a miniaturised smart system. In this system, photonic resonators will be integrated into microsystem technologies in order to achieve the high sensitivity that is required for the detection of these toxins.

One goal of the project is to produce an automated sampling and analysis system that will provide more efficient, cost-effective and timely managment of milk quality. The final system will be used on-line in Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), and will perform low-cost label-free detection of aflatoxin in milk and prevent contamination of dairy products.

The photonic system is expected to have a positive impact on the dairy industry by moving towards precision process management. Moreover, because end-users will evaluate technical results on-site, there will be increased collaboration between SMEs who supply sensors, systems and microsystems.

The Symphony project coordinator is Leandro Lorenzelli, head of the BioMEMS research unit as part of the Fondazione Bruno Kessler (FBK) in Italy. In addition to FBK's contribution, the EU has provided more than €2 million in funding to the project. Other partners include the University of Trento in Italy, LioniX BV in The Netherlands, Epigem in the UK, Acreo Swedish ICT in Sweden, and Quadrachem Laboratories in the UK.