Dec 122010

The red florescent bacteria in the glass tube change color when they come in contact with toxic substances. (Credit: Copyright Fraunhofer-IGB)

Contained Bacteria Change Color When They Contact Toxins

Although drinking water is monitored more strictly than almost anything, our water supply network is still not immune to accidents, wear and tear or targeted attacks. A one-minute warning system for toxins and other substances in water hazardous to health could set off alarms in future if there is a danger.

It is supposed to be cool, colorless, tasteless and odorless. It may not have any pathogens or impair your health. This is the reason why drinking water is put to a whole series of screenings at regular intervals. Now, the AquaBioTox project will be added to create a system for constant real-time drinking water monitoring. At present, the tests required by the German Drinking Water Ordinance are limited to random samples that often only provide findings after hours and are always attuned to specific substances. In contrast, the heart of the AquaBioTox system is a bio-sensor that reacts to a wide range of potentially hazardous substances after just a couple of minutes. It works on the taster principle. That is, some drinking water is diverted from the main line through the sensor in a branching descending line and it contains two different strains of bacteria and mammalian cells.

On the one hand, these microscopically small bacteria have a large surface that guarantees quick material turnover and reacts to toxic substances within minutes. On the other hand, the mammalian cells clinch the results because of their close relationship to the human organism and they also extend the range of reactions. This is how Dr. Iris Trick from the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart, Germany sees it: “We tested various classes of substances that might occur in water — even though they shouldn’t — and to date our sensor has reacted to each of these substances.” She developed the bio-sensor in joint efforts with her colleague Dr. Anke Burger-Kentischer.

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