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"At its best, SF is the medium in which our miserable certainty that tomorrow will be different from today in ways we can't predict, can be transmuted to a sense of excitement and anticipation, occasionally evolving into awe."
- John Brunner

WAGD Germ Detector  
  A hand-held biohazard analyzer.  

When a truck carrying suspected hazardous materials jackknifes after a police pursuit, FBI agent Rebecca Rose tries to make an on-the-scene determination.

She had yet to bring out her WAGD - pronounced Wag-Dee, for Wright Assay Germ Detector - a biohazard analyzer the size and shape of a large magic marker. She carried two in her coat pocket. Some in the field called the WAGD the Death Stick. Others had corrupted the acronym to "We're All Gonna Die."

...She reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a WAGD, hiding most of it in her palm and up her sleeve, then swiftly uncapped it ... and ran the moist gel tip along the inside... She capped and pocketed the device...

From Quantico, by Greg Bear.
Published by Vanguard in 2007
Additional resources -

The WAGD germ detector is similar to a real-life device, the BioSeeq. The BioSeeq handheld is a six-channel automated thermocycler rapidly transitions between melting, annealing, and extending temperatures for DNA and specific primer sequences thereby permitting the 1 x 10(9) fold amplification of biological samples.

In an interview with Technovelgy.com, Greg Bear had this to say about the WAGD germ detector:

    Greg Bear: "The other side is preparing defenses against biological attacks. Right now we have a lot of equipment which is in research form, some of which has been placed in the field, miniaturized detection equipment.

    I have this in the book, the WAGD, which can pick up every commonly pathogenic bacteria or virus trace by rubbing a wet felt-tip marker against it. I think that sort of thing can be done, and is being done, and that will help to determine when a biological attack is underway. But also, giving people the chance to rapidly immunize or prepare themselves, do research for a large national bio-defense immunization effort, which includes those possibilities in a national program, I think that's being contemplated now. It wasn't around the time of 9/11.

    I modeled that on things I saw in 2002, briefcase size detection devices that would use microchannel fluidics labs, labs on a chip, that sort of thing."

    Technovelgy: I don't know if you've read The Cobra Event, by Richard Preston...

    GB: "No, I hadn't read that yet."

    T: In the novel, he refers to a Boink (because that's the noise that it makes if it detects something), a handheld device that was a similar kind of idea. The only real handheld device I could find is the BioSeeq.

    GB: "You could also use an Affymetrix chip which has all of these sequences encoded on its matrix, when the matrices light up, you have some evidence that you've been hit with something that has DNA similar to it. These have been used in laboratories for years when they do large-scale genetic testing with these chips that have been pre-programmed with bits of DNA which the opposite DNA will attach itself on."

    (Read the rest of Greg Bear's interview on Quantico.)

Find out more about the "Boink" from The Cobra Event, a 1997 novel by Richard Preston, which was probably also based on the BioSeeq, the technology for which became available in the mid/late 1990's.

Read a bit more about the precursors to the WAGD at TecTrends.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Quantico
  More Ideas and Technology by Greg Bear
  Tech news articles related to Quantico
  Tech news articles related to works by Greg Bear

WAGD Germ Detector-related news articles:
  - LOCAD-PTS Handheld Microorganism Detector
  - xTAG Viral Panel Tests 12 Viruses In One Sample
  - NASA Biohazard Biosensor Nanotech-Based
  - Programmable Lab-On-A-Chip

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