April 16, 2024
New Method Developed

New Method Developed to Count Microbes for Faster Research and Antibiotic Discovery

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a groundbreaking method for counting microorganisms that is up to 36 times faster than traditional techniques. The new technique, known as the Geometric Viability Assay (GVA), not only speeds up the research process but also significantly reduces plastic waste and the carbon footprint of biomedical studies. The findings were published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

Microbiology experiments conducted worldwide may be revolutionized by this breakthrough, as clinicians could diagnose and treat infections more quickly, and researchers could test potential new antibiotics in a fraction of the time. The growing concern of antibiotic resistance, which led to nearly 5 million deaths globally in 2019, underscores the need for faster discovery of new antibiotics.

The conventional method used since 1938 is the colony forming unit (CFU) assay, which involves diluting samples into various concentrations, placing drops onto petri dishes filled with bacteria food, waiting for colonies to form, and counting them. This process is time-consuming, generates excessive plastic waste, and is costly. Consequently, researchers are often discouraged from testing new drugs or combinations, leading to a decline in the development of new antibiotics.

The GVA method simplifies the process by replacing the laborious multi-step dilution process with a one-step process based on geometry and math. The samples are embedded into a gel inside a pipette tip cone, and colonies form within. Instead of manually dividing the samples into subsamples for counting colonies, GVA counts colonies in one place in the cone and uses multiplication to calculate the total concentration. The method is simple enough that a high-school student with basic mathematical knowledge could perform it.

In laboratory tests, the researchers found that preparing 96 samples with the traditional method took three hours, while GVA only took five minutes—a 36-fold time savings. Even compared to a more modern method involving robotics, GVA was still nine times faster and used only one-tenth of the plastic. The GVA method enables a single researcher to accurately measure the microbial concentration of 1,200 samples in a day.

The potential applications of GVA extend beyond research labs. It could also facilitate faster diagnosis of infections and help identify the appropriate antibiotics more quickly. It would eliminate the need for patients to stay in the hospital for days while doctors determine the most effective treatment. However, further research is required to advance to the clinical stage.

The developers of GVA, Christian Meyer, a postdoctoral fellow, and Joel Kralj, a former assistant professor, have filed a provisional patent for the technique and are working with Venture Partners. They have also created a website and are in the process of developing a smartphone version that can be used by scientists and the general public.

While the researchers are excited about the progress, they emphasize that this is just the beginning. The GVA method has the potential to revolutionize microbiology research and accelerate antibiotic discovery, which is crucial in the face of the global antimicrobial resistance crisis.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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