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Research Weapon In Battle Against Bio-Terrorism

Research Weapon In Battle Against Bio-Terrorism

A Christchurch high tech research and development company could play a major role in the fight against bio-terrorism around the world.

Syft Technologies has developed world first super-sensitive technology that acts like a “super-nose” and detects smells and flavours in the smallest possible quantities – as low as parts per trillion. And it does so in a blisteringly fast way that could save lives, money and environments.

The company was formed to commercialise real-time, high sensitivity Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) analysis technology that scientists at the University of Canterbury had been working on since 1981.

Syft Technologies is a joint venture between Canterprise (the University’s commercial centre) and with Breathe Technologies Limited, which has a pool of local investors.

In an exciting development, Syft is working on an application of its technology that could achieve early detection of deadly bio-terrorism chemical agents including one of the most toxic – sarin. Sarin kills extremely quickly and because it acts at such low concentrations, it is difficult to detect.

“Syft technology detects down to parts per trillion so it is extremely sensitive. It also detects in real-time so it is also very fast and speed is critical when dealing with gas attacks. The fear in countries like the USA is that chemical agents could be introduced into the heating or air conditioning systems of a large building. By the time people realised what was happening, a large number of people would be dead. Had sarin had been released into the air conditioning system in the World Trade Centre, it is possible more than 100 000 people could have been killed,” says Syft Chief Operations Officer, Geoff Peck.

“A Syft device would continuously monitor the in-bound fresh air feed into the air conditioning system looking for profiles of these deadly chemical agents. If specific chemical agents were detected, the air system would be shut down instantly. Syft technology can therefore achieve results previously unattainable. And despite the complexity of dealing with such compounds, Syft equipment is simple to operate and doesn’t require highly qualified personnel.”

“Syft will soon begin developing more portable and mobile units that can be used in outside environments for the detection of these deadly chemical agents.”

“It sounds so simple and easy to operate but the technology is highly sophisticated and is the result of more than 20 years of research and development,” says Geoff Peck.

There is also significant interest from US companies to explore further opportunities for the technology. Syft is currently in discussions to establish strategic partnerships to develop and market the technology offshore.

The Chairman of Syft’s Board of Directors, Stephen Collins, says the brilliance of the Syft technology is the sheer range of potential applications.

“The detection and analysis of VOCs has a wide variety of potential uses including medical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, border security, leaky building syndrome and oil exploration to name but a few. As an investor, this was one opportunity I wasn’t going to miss.”

For further information

Geoff Peck, Chief Operations Officer, Syft Technologies, 03 338 6701 Stephen Collins, Chairman of the Board, 027 4 320552 Tracey Lyall, Chambers PR, 03 341 8088 or 027 229 1838


What is Syft Technologies Ltd? Syft Technologies is a high tech company that has been formed to commercialise the analysis of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that scientists at the University of Canterbury had been working on since 1981.

Who owns Syft Technologies Ltd? The company is a joint venture between a holding company of which Canterprise (the University of Canterbury’s commercial centre) and Breathe Technologies Limited, which has a pool of private investors, as its ultimate owners are the major shareholders.

How long has Syft been operating? Syft Technologies has been working for about 18 months on commercialising this technology. This work is based on research done by scientists at the University of Canterbury stretching over 20 years. The science is therefore well proven but the applications are new. The research and development team has been servicing key partners like NASA’s JPL for more than 10 years.

What are Volatile Organic Compounds? Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are simply chemical compounds that vaporise at standard air temperature and pressure. There are many examples, for instance, the organic compounds produced by microbes (fungi and bacteria) that are given off as a gas under normal conditions. Different microbes produce unique combinations of VOCs as a result of their metabolic processes.

What has Syft been working on? Syft has been working on developing the world’s first commercially available semi-portable SIFT-MS machine that can detect and identify VOCs in trace amounts.

Why is this technology so powerful? The Syft system detects VOCs in extremely minute quantities – down to parts per trillion. No one else worldwide currently has comparable technology. Its main advance over existing technologies is the speed with which it obtains these results plus the simplicity in operating the equipment. VOC detection occurs in milli-seconds and analysis of the readout takes a few minutes at most. It is also very fast and accurate in identifying the source of a VOC signature.

What are some of the potential applications? Syft is already investigating the use of its VOC analysis technology in a variety of areas. These include: Medical: Syft VOC analysis may be able to return a positive identification of a bacterial strain within a few hours rather than up to 48 hours, which is the case at the present time. Border security: Syft is in the process of developing a VOC detection system that will be employed in shipping containers.

This should not only quickly identify any biosecurity threats within a container but could also be adopted worldwide for detection of drugs, explosives and other VOC threats to national security Environmental services: the Syft system is now available as a contract service for the identification of various toxins and pollutants Leaky buildings: for detecting and identifying the fungi species that pose the major health risk of leaky house syndrome Oil exploration: for the detection of underground oil reserves by means of a simple probe to detect plumes of hydrocarbons being given off by oil from reserves a thousand or more metres below the surface.

Such a system could greatly enhance the speed and economies of oil exploration Process control: for monitoring purity of feedstock and products of high volume, high value industrial manufacturing, e.g. plastics, petrochemicals.

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