Device to detect impure water

Device to detect impure water

Researchers are working towards developing a simple and low-cost DNA based biosensor, a device that would help people in developing nations to detect contaminated drinking water.

Students from Arizona State University say having a way to detect contaminated water could lead to a further reduction in the incidence and morbidity of diarrhoea.

The team’s goal is to create a low cost user-friendly, DNA-based biosensor that can detect major pathogens that could be used in the field rather than in a laboratory.
“We are developing a biosensor that will detect pathogenic bacteria, such as Shigella, Salmonella and E coli, that cause diarrhoea,” said Ryan Muller, an undergraduate student
in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and an iGEM team leader.

“Ideally, you would use our biosensor to check different water supplies in third world-countries to determine whether the water is safe to drink,” Muller said. The team is working on two biosensor designs.

“The first one targets DNA,” explained Nisarg Patel, a molecular biosciences and biotechnology major in School of Life Sciences, as well as a political science majr. “Since each type of pathogen has different DNA, we want to create complementary sequences - sequences that match a specific DNA. We will take bacterial samples from the water, pull out the DNA and check whether it complements our DNA probe. If it does, it will produce a colour response and then we’ll know that the water is contaminated,” Patel said.

Patel said the second design tests the membranes of bacteria. When using the device to test water, if certain proteins attach to a bacterial membrane, the sample will turn blue - indicating the water is contaminated with a pathogen and would not be safe to drink.
“The advantage of this design over previous designs in the field lies in the cheap production of probes and the enzymatic chain reaction. Samples can be tested in the field with minimal cost and high sensitivity,” said Abhinav Markus, a biomedical engineering student in ASU’s Ira A Fulton Schools of Engineering.