A potentially fatal form of pneumonia, Legionnaires' disease can be spread when water in the rooftop cooling towers of a building's air conditioning system becomes infected with Legionella bacteria. Checking for that bacteria typically takes up to two weeks, and requires water samples to be sent off to a lab. The recently-released Spartan Cube, however, can do the job on location in less than an hour.

When labs test for Legionella, they do so by putting water samples in a Petri dish, then waiting 10 to 14 days to see if bacterial cultures grow. According to Canada's Spartan Bioscience, which is the manufacturer of the cube, Legionella populations can reach outbreak levels in just seven days. Additionally, the company claims that lab culture testing can underestimate actual Legionella levels by a factor of 10 or more.

That's where the Spartan Cube comes in.

Billed as being the world's smallest DNA analyzer, the "coffee cup-sized" device utilizes a process known as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) to detect and measure concentrations of Legionella DNA in water samples.

Those samples are gathered on a weekly basis from a building's cooling towers via single-use disposable test cartridges, which are placed in the cube. Within 45 minutes, a reading is provided. If it indicates that the bacteria are present, the towers can be cleaned and disinfected before the population reaches dangerous levels.

The Spartan Cube is available now on a subscription basis, with rates ranging from US$5,000 to $10,000 per building per year.

"I think DNA testing is on the verge of changing everyone's lives," company CEO, Dr. Paul Lem tells New Atlas. "For the first time in 40 years, there's finally a solution that can help prevent people from getting Legionnaires'."

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