By Andi Sutton | Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab
The Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS) at MIT has announced its seventh round of seed grant funding to the MIT community. J-WAFS is MIT’s Institute-wide initiative to promote, coordinate, and lead research related to water and food that will have a measurable and international impact as humankind adapts to a rapidly expanding population on a changing planet. The seed grant program is J-WAFS’ flagship funding initiative, aimed at catalyzing innovative research across the Institute that solves the challenges facing the world’s water and food systems.
This year, eight new projects will be funded, led by nine faculty principal investigators (PIs) across six MIT departments. The winning projects address challenges that range from climate-resilient crops, food safety technologies and innovations that can remove contaminants from water, research supporting smallholder farmers’ productivity and resilience, and more.
Food-borne illness represents a major source of both human morbidity and economic loss; however, current pathogen detection methods used across the United States are time- and labor-intensive. This means that food contamination is often not detected until it is already in the hands of consumers, requiring costly recalls. While rapid tests have emerged to address this challenge, they are do not have the sensitivity to detect a wide variety of contaminants. Rohit Karnik, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has teamed up with Pratik Shah, a principal research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, to develop a food safety test that is rapid, sensitive, and easy to use. The device that they are developing with their project, "On-site Analysis of Foodborne Pathogens Using Density-Shift Immunomagnetic Separation and Culture," will use a novel technology called density-shift immunomagnetic separation (DIMS) to detect a wide variety of pathogens on-site within a matter of hours to enable on-site testing at food processing plants.