It is always difficult to predict the future development in any field of endeavor. In 1995 the author was honored to present a lecture at the annual meeting of the American Society of Microbiology as the Food Microbiology Divisional Lecturer concerning the current status and the future outlook of the field of rapid methods and automation in microbiology. The following is a synopsis of the ten predictions, with a look into the future made in 1995. A more detailed description of the predictions can be found in the paper by Fung published in 1999 .
1. Viable cell counts will still be used.
2. Real-time monitoring of hygiene will be in place.
3. PCR, ribotyping, and genetic tests will become a reality in food laboratories.
4. ELISA and immunological tests will be completely automated and widely used.
5. Dipstick technology will provide rapid answers (10 minutes).
6. Biosensors will be in place for HACCP programs in the future.
7. Instant detection of target pathogens will be possible by a computergenerated matrix in response to particular characteristics of pathogens (microarrays, biochips, microchips).
8. Effective separation and concentration of target cells will greatly assist in rapid identification.
9. Microbiological alert systems will be in food packages.
10. Consumers will have rapid alert kits for detection of pathogens at home.
Along with the prediction of the future of rapid testing methods, it is useful to describe the ten attributes and criteria for an ideal automated microbiology assay system as follows:
1. Accuracy for the intended purposes. Sensitivity, minimal detectable limits, specificity of test system, versatility, potential applications, comparison to reference methods.
2. Speed in productivity. Time in obtaining results, number of samples processed per run, per hour, per day.
3. Cost. Initial, per test, reagents, labor.
4. Acceptability by scientific community and regulatory agencies.
5. Simplicity of operation. Sample preparation, operation of test equipment, computer versatility.
6. Training. On-site, length of time, qualification of operator.
7. Reagents. Preparation, stability, availability and consistency.
8. Company reputation.
9. Technical services. Speed, availability, cost and scope. 10. Utility and space requirements.
The future looks very bright for the field of rapid methods and automation in microbiology. The potential is great and many exciting developments will certainly unfold in the near and far future.
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