U.S. scientists say finding bacteria, viruses and other substances in hospitals or airplanes may soon be as easy wiping a napkin across a surface.

It’s very inexpensive, it wouldn’t require that someone be highly trained to use it, and it could be activated for whatever you want to find, said Assistant Cornell University Professor Margaret Frey.

So if you’re working in a meat-packing plant, for instance, you could swipe it across some hamburger and quickly and easily detect E. coli bacteria, she said.

Once fully developed, the biodegradable absorbent wipe would contain nanofibers containing antibodies to numerous biohazards and chemicals, Frey said. It would signal by changing color or through another effect when the antibodies attached to their targets.

Users would simply wipe the napkin across a surface; if a biohazard were detected, the surface could be disinfected and retested with another napkin to be sure it was no longer contaminated.

The technology was developed by Frey and Assistant Cornell Professor Yong Joo.

Frey presented the research Monday in San Francisco during the American Chemical Society’s national meeting.

Margaret Frey, left, assistant professor of textiles and apparel, and Yong Joo, assistant professor of chemical engineering, pose with a conventional fiber spinning apparatus.