BAE Professor Uses Rapid Diagnostics to Enhance Recycling Needs

Evangelyn Alocilja, Ph.D., uses rapid diagnostic technology to improve circular economies.

The three Rs of recycling are known worldwide: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. That motto has served well for many years, but scientists and engineers want to take it further with a circular economy. A AAAS-Fellows-Portraits-Evangelyn-Alcocilja-1.jpg circular economy adds one more R to that list: Regenerate. A circular economy keeps materials and products circulating for as long as possible. When designed correctly, circular economies can protect public health, animal and plant health, and the environment and slow down or minimize the impact of climate change.

Scientists and engineers face multiple challenges when developing a circular economy. Looking at all the ingredients or materials used for a single item also needs to include how the ingredients and materials can be recycled and used again. In addition to thinking about how the ingredients and materials can be recycled, keeping the recycled materials clean from pathogenic bacteria and viruses is an entirely new challenge. This is a challenge for which Evangelyn Alocilja, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at Michigan State University, is creating a solution.

Alocilja’s solution is to rapidly test for bacteria and drug resistance in materials circulating in the economy to ensure safety. Rapid diagnostic tests are unique because they can provide health risk assessment in as little as a few hours onsite and at a low cost. For example, manufacturing plants can quickly test every shift using rapid diagnostic tests and implement mitigation strategies. Consistent, low-cost testing makes it simpler for recycling businesses to integrate into the existing processes. Consumers also benefit from this as they have peace of mind knowing that materials are safe to continue to use in the circular economy.

“The presence of bacteria on materials intended for recycling poses a significant health risk.” Said Alocilja. “If these bacteria re-enter the supply chain, they can cause disease outbreaks and lead to unsanitary products that threaten consumers. The potential for drug-resistant bacteria is another alarming concern. Drug-resistant bacteria can transfer their drug-resistant genes to non-drug-resistant bacteria, increasing drug-resistant reservoirs in the supply chain, water systems, and communities. This is why testing for bacterial species and drug resistance is crucial in ensuring the safety of circular economies.”

Rapid diagnostic tests are a low-cost solution Alocilja’s lab is developing to ensure a safe and climate-resilient circular economy. From agricultural products to healthcare systems, a low-cost solution for testing microbial safety at recycling or regenerating intersections is needed. Circular economies are a sustainable method for utilizing resources for as long as possible and reducing the impact on the climate. Adding rapid diagnostic tests in the system increases product safety, which is a win for everyone.

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