PITTSBURG — E.coli has a new foe — Pittsburg State University.

The ubiquitous bacteria made national headlines earlier this year when at least 55 people in 11 states became sick after eating at a Chipotle Mexican Grill, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Services.

Since the beginning of 2015, Tuhina Banerjee, a chemist in PSU’s Department of Chemistry, along with Assistant Professor Santimukul Santra, were figuring out a better way to detect dangerous strains of E.coli.

They found the answer.

Banerjee and Santra, along with PSU students, have been using a nanosensor combination of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fluorescence to detect the bacteria.

Their novel way of detecting the bacteria takes as little as 15 minutes. Santra said the common way involves blood samples and experiments that take days or weeks to get results.

Their finding were recently published in the American Chemistry Society journal.

The breakthrough at PSU requires a Bruker medical machine to read a liquid containing bacteria. Santra said the machine is just equipment, but the real success is using the nanosensor technology discovered by their research.

Santra said being able to miniaturize the findings onto a chip will “flip the market.” He said the process is “doable.”

Students have aided in the discovery. Tyler Shelby has been working with Banerjee and Santra the last 18 months. Since graduating in May, Shelby has stayed on as a researcher while applying for MD/Ph.D. programs.

“It’s been a great experience being a student and being on the front lines of a research project … This research is on par with Ivy League institutions,” he said.

For his work, Shelby received the Star Trainee Award from the Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence. He is following up his E. coli research with how nanosensors can detect other viruses.

Santra could not disclose many details, but said the next step is using nanosensors for quicker detection of the Zika virus, bird flu and avian flu.

E. coli was chosen due to its prevalence. The bacteria is common in the human body, but certain strands of the bacteria can be dangerous, even deadly.

In the U.S., one in six Americans will get sick this year from a foodborne illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Of those 48 million, more than 125,000 will be hospitalized and 3,000 will die.

— Michael Stavola is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be emailed at mstavola@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @MichaelStavola1.