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Those who by all means seek to escape caffeine - the most popular stimulant of neural activity in our civilization - will appreciate a new achievement in immunochemistry. Chemists from Division of Laboratory Medicine of Washington University School of Medicine at Saint-Louise - the group lead by Doctor Jack H.Ladenson - invented a home test for caffeine in the form of two paper strips changing their color at the presence of this tonic substance.

The change happens because these are not just strips but strips saturated with caffeine-responsive anti-bodies of llamas and camels. The distinctive feature of anti-bodies produced inside these desert inhabitants is that they are resistant to high temperatures, so their anti-bodies linked to caffeine in hot coffee will exist long enough for the user of the product to discover the discrepancy between the label and the contents.

To obtain the temperature-resistant caffeine antibodies the researchers have made injections of a preparation of a certain protein linked to the target molecule, to three llamas and two camels. After the time necessary for development of an immune response to caffeine in the blood of the animals there were found antibodies that were resistant to the temperatures of hot drinks and at the same time caffeine-responsive. The results of these experiments will be presented in the June issue of the Journal of Analytical Chemistry of American Chemical Society.

The most stable version of caffeine-specific antibodies (produced by a llama named Signorita) retained its activity at 90 degrees Centigrade (that is, at the real temperature of a cup of coffee). The same antibodies obtained from the body of a mouse, decomposed at as low as 70 degrees. Currently the presence of caffeine can only be determined in a laboratory with the use of spectroscopy and chromatography.

The test developed by the group of Ladenson is considered qualitative, but approximate quantitative estimates of caffeine content made by scientists from the intensity of color of the strips with antibodies at the presence of this chemical show that they are practically the same as the data given by the precision equipment. In the circle of specialists Ladenson's laboratory is known for developing a standard test for troponin - a protein discharged into the bloodstream when one has a myocardial infarction.

It is too early to speak about putting the strips into practice - they have just been invented, and there has been no clinical trials yet.