Researchers from California University San Diego will develop new biosensor protect water from metal toxins

Biosensors will protect water from toxins, finds new study

11:16 AM, 13th March 2014
University of California San Diego research on biosensor
The new biosensors combine next-generation sequencing, synthetic biology, and microfluidic technologies to monitor water supplies.

SAN DIEGO, US: Researchers at the University of California San Diego will develop a sophisticated new biosensor that can protect the water supplies from a wide range of toxins, including heavy metals and other poisons. The project, led by Jeff Hasty, Director of the BioCircuits Institute, UC San Diego, will combine next-generation sequencing, synthetic biology, and microfluidic technologies to engineer a highly specific array of biosensors that will continuously monitor water supplies for the presence of toxins.

“The novel device will detect sub-lethal quantities of heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium – as well as cyanide and organophosphate pesticides – with very high specificity. Unlike current testing methods, which are costly and can only be performed sporadically, our technology will be a low-cost, continuous ‘first response’ system. It will signal if more thorough analytical chemistry tests should be employed,” said Hasty.

The BioCircuits Institute, one of 20 organized research units at UC San Diego, has extensive experience developing algorithms for pattern recognition – including chemical discrimination – using artificial sensors with broad responses to a wide range of chemicals. The heart of the detection device will be a microfluidic chip that continuously directs water to colonies of microbial cells that act as detectors.

“The device is engineered to generate macroscopic signals so that specialized optics are unnecessary. This will set the stage for the conversion to electrical signals that will enable the use of low-cost electronics,” said Hasty.

“We’re using common lab strains of bacteria because the genetics and molecular behavior are safe, well-known, and sensitive to the toxins we want to detect. The workings of the biosensor will be protected by a tough, temperature-controlled case that blocks exposure to ultraviolet radiation,” said Hasty.

“The device will be deployed in open bodies of water, and will need almost no infrastructure to continuously monitor water quality. It will detect far more toxins than conventional test strips – and do so without needing trained personnel,” added Hasty.

In addition to helping protect the nation’s water supplies from terrorist contamination or accidental pollution, the device might well lead to patentable technology. “Working with the university’s Technology Transfer Office we will be looking for a local company to license and commercialize our device,” said Hasty.

© University of California San Diego News

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