We’ve already seen some impressive medical applications for Google Glass. But the next step could require nothing more than an ordinary Android smartphone, turning it into a $250 organic chemistry lab we can carry in our pocket.

The WSJ has been talking to a couple of startups working in this field, including 6SensorLabs which has a device that can – with the help of a smartphone – detect whether a food really is gluten-free.

The Nima from 6SensorLabs is an organic-chemistry lab small enough to carry in your pocket. Right now it is only good for one thing: detecting gluten in foods at minuscule concentrations, as little as 20 parts per million, the FDA’s threshold for declaring a food “gluten-free.”

The company says that this could be just the start, with future versions able to detect the bacteria that cause food poisoning …


In the future, says 6SensorLabs co-founder and Chief Executive Shireen Yates, it could be adapted to recognize all manner of proteins—including ones that would allow it to recognize bacterial contaminants such as E. coli and salmonella.

By accomplishing in two minutes an analysis that would normally require days to obtain from a lab, it’s hoped that suppliers and restaurants will conduct regular testing. Even individual consumers could do so, though you’ll need to lay out around $5 for each of the disposable ‘reaction chambers’ needed.

SCiO from Consumer Physics of Israel says that it’s possible that its camera-based technology – used to identify substances by measuring the spectrum of light they reflect – could even be built into future smartphones.

Google parent company Alphabet has a keen interest in medical tech, recently renaming its Life Sciences company as Verily.

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