When a terrorist attack happens, every second counts in terms of response time. A new rubber glove developed by the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and CSIRO Manufacturing in Australia could not only help first-responders detect dangerous nerve agents like sarin and VX, but it could also help ensure a safe food supply.

DNA is part of the chemical group known as organophosphates, but so are powerful insecticides used in farming and nerve agents used in chemical warfare and attacks. The second two categories are what concerned the UCSD researchers, who set out to find a quick, cost-effective and easy way to spot the chemical agents in the field. Working with CSIRO, Australia's largest patent holder, they designed a unique rubber glove.

The glove has highly stretchable sensors printed on the forefinger and a swab printed on the thumb.

When an inspector is searching for organophosphate contamination either from a suspected attack or from cross-contamination on food products, he simply uses his thumb to swap the area. The thumb is then brought to the index finger where the sensors use an embedded enzyme to analyze the sample. If it contains the poison, the electrodes carry a signal triggered by a chemical reaction to a Bluetooth transmitter mounted on the glove, which is then beamed to a receiving device, like a smartphone. The glove is disposable, so when handled properly, it can reduce the risk of spreading the dangerous chemicals.

In tests, the glove was able to identify the organophosphate pesticides methyl parathion and methyl paraoxon on a wide range of surfaces including glass, wood and plastic, as well as on produce.

The researchers say that future efforts will focus on shrinking down the electronics with a ring-based device as well as expanding the glove's ability to detect other harmful compounds. Their work appears in a paper published in the journal ACS Sensors (PDF).

The following video shows the glove in development.