Smartphone test spots poisoned water risk to millions of lives

March 26, 2019

A smartphone device could help millions of people avoid drinking water contaminated by arsenic.

Researchers have developed a biosensor that attaches to a phone and uses bacteria to detect unsafe arsenic levels.

The device, developed at the University of Edinburgh, generates easy-to-interpret patterns, similar to volume-bars, which display the level of contamination.

Researchers believe there is an urgent need to provide simple, affordable, on-site solutions for contaminated water sources.

In resource-limited countries, there is a lack of sufficiently skilled personnel and healthcare facilities to test water for contamination.

Researchers say new devices could replace existing tests, which are difficult to use, need specialist laboratory equipment and can produce toxic chemicals.

The contamination of water by heavy metals is a worldwide health issue. UNICEF reports that arsenic contaminated drinking water is consumed by more than 140 million people worldwide.

Researchers tested the arsenic sensors using environment samples from affected wells in Bangladesh, which suffers from some of the world's highest levels of arsenic-contaminated ground water.

An estimated 20 million people in Bangladesh - mostly rural poor - drink contaminated water.

Long-term exposure to unsafe levels of arsenic leads to skin lesions and cancers and is linked to 20 per cent of all deaths in the worst-affected regions.

Researchers developed the biosensor by manipulating the genetic code of the bacteria Escherichia coli. They added genetic components to act as amplifiers when arsenic is detected.

Water samples were fed into a plastic device containing bacteria suspended in a gel. This produced fluorescent proteins that were visible in the presence of arsenic.

Researchers believe that the approach could be used to detect other environmental toxins, diagnose diseases and locate landmines.
-end-
The study published in Nature Chemical Biology, was funded by BBSRC, Leverhulme Trust and Wellcome.

Lead researcher Dr Baojun Wang, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Biological Sciences, said: "We tested our sensors with samples from wells in a village in Bangladesh. The arsenic levels reported by the sensors was consistent with lab-based standard tests, demonstrating the device's potential as a simple low-cost-use monitoring tool."

University of Edinburgh

Related Bacteria Articles from Brightsurf:

Siblings can also differ from one another in bacteria
A research team from the University of Tübingen and the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) is investigating how pathogens influence the immune response of their host with genetic variation.

How bacteria fertilize soya
Soya and clover have their very own fertiliser factories in their roots, where bacteria manufacture ammonium, which is crucial for plant growth.

Bacteria might help other bacteria to tolerate antibiotics better
A new paper by the Dynamical Systems Biology lab at UPF shows that the response by bacteria to antibiotics may depend on other species of bacteria they live with, in such a way that some bacteria may make others more tolerant to antibiotics.

Two-faced bacteria
The gut microbiome, which is a collection of numerous beneficial bacteria species, is key to our overall well-being and good health.

Microcensus in bacteria
Bacillus subtilis can determine proportions of different groups within a mixed population.

Right beneath the skin we all have the same bacteria
In the dermis skin layer, the same bacteria are found across age and gender.

Bacteria must be 'stressed out' to divide
Bacterial cell division is controlled by both enzymatic activity and mechanical forces, which work together to control its timing and location, a new study from EPFL finds.

How bees live with bacteria
More than 90 percent of all bee species are not organized in colonies, but fight their way through life alone.

The bacteria building your baby
Australian researchers have laid to rest a longstanding controversy: is the womb sterile?

Hopping bacteria
Scientists have long known that key models of bacterial movement in real-world conditions are flawed.

Read More: Bacteria News and Bacteria Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.