Food safety is a growing problem. The number of reported food poisoning cases in the UK has increased in the past 25 years from 23,000 to 80,000 cases annually. There are several contributing factors such as a wider choice of ready-made meals with shorter shelf-life, as well as longer produce-shipping times and growing food intolerances.

Lumora has created a revolutionary new food safety diagnostic system, capable of quickly and cheaply detecting and identifying pathogens such as Salmonella.

From a young age, Laurence Tisi had an interest in both chemistry and biology, which led first to studying biochemistry at the University of Bristol and then to a PhD at the Department of Biochemistry in Cambridge. From here, he joined the Institute of Biotechnology in Cambridge, to work with Professor Jim Murray. He found the Institute created an entrepreneurial atmosphere in which the academics are exposed to many different ideas and technologies. As Dr Tisi explains: ‘this atmosphere was important as innovations often come from recognising how very different technologies can fit together.’ The result is a company called Lumora.

Lumora has created a revolutionary new food safety diagnostic system, capable of quickly and cheaply detecting and identifying pathogens such as Salmonella. The technology developed can even detect growing levels of what has been dubbed ‘food fraud’. For example:

  •  whether the food contains genetically modified material;
  •  from which company the genetically modified material originated;
  • whether a bottle of olive oil comes from Greece or Spain;
  •  whether the barley purchased at great expense is really fit for brewing or only fit for animal feed!
  • So where does the firefly fit into this story?

Lumora has developed a novel technology that means any specific DNA sequence can be detected by recording light coming from a modified version of luciferase – the enzyme responsible for the bioluminescence of fireflies. Uniquely, the light is produced in real-time as the DNA is detected, making the test very rapid, quantitative, easy to use and capable of building into a hand-held device. The technology came from one of those ‘eureka’ moments, where it was realised that two completely unrelated biochemical methods could be combined to give a whole new technology.

The company was founded in 2003 as a spin-out from the University of Cambridge. Cambridge Enterprise Seed Funds and a consortium of private European Union financiers were the initial investors. In July 2006, Lumora announced the signing of a key licensing deal with the global diagnostics company bioMérieux, based in Lyon, France. This deal allows Lumora to combine its unique luminescent technology with a DNA amplification detection technology from bioMérieux. In January 2007, Lumora became the first company to receive investment from the newly created food sector focused venture fund, Tate & Lyle Ventures.

Having realised that their technology was perfect for the growing diagnostic needs of the food industry, Lumora is now working on the next generation of prototypes that will be available in the next year for a range of food sector companies. The novel detection technology is highly sensitive, extremely rapid and, most importantly, versatile and affordable.

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