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Portable Dipstick to Measure Caffeine

Cup of coffee. (Image credit:

While it might seem strange scientists would think to develop dipsticks to measure caffeine, how they're making them is even weirder.

How about three llamas and two camels.

The animals, both called camelids by scientists, are among the few whose immune systems produce antibodies that are not destroyed by hot coffee. We did not look into who figured that out or why.

Anyway, the researchers injected proteins linked to caffeine into the five beasts to elicit an immune response. The animals produced antibodies in their blood that were reactive to caffeine. Then in the lab, these antibodies were found to accurately indicate the amount of caffeine in hot coffee and also cold cola.

More work needs to be done to move the technique from the lab, via caffeine dipsticks. But that's the goal.

"We believe our test would be the first consumer test for caffeine and would be beneficial for anyone wishing to avoid caffeine for health or personal reasons," said lead researcher Jack Ladenson of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

You would not need camels or llamas to do this at home. The antibodies could be copied in the lab. You could even take the dipsticks into the coffee shop.

"Unlike other methods for measuring caffeine, which require large and expensive laboratory equipment, this test is potentially adaptable to a format that people could carry with them," Ladenson said.

The research is detailed in the June 1 issue of the American Chemical Society's journal Analytical Chemistry.

Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.