UK Scientists Use Electric Bugs to Detect Water Pollution

Researchers created a device which monitors the quality of drinking water without using expensive lab equipment.
water, water drop, water pollution, university of bath
Scientists at the University of Bath created a low-cost method of monitoring the quality of drinking water.|Photo by Wikimedia Commons

A new device which monitors the quality of drinking water without using expensive lab equipment has been developed by scientists with the University of Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering.

As the Homeland Security News Wire notes, detecting water pollutants is costly and time consuming, but University of Bath scientists working in collaboration with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of the West of England have used 3D printing technology to create a low-cost sensor which can be used for monitoring water quality in rivers and lakes.

The new sensor has bacteria which produce a small electric current as they feed and grow. According to the press release from the University of Bath, researchers discovered that when the bacteria comes into contact with toxins in the water, the electric current drops, alerting to the presence of water pollutants.

“When the bacteria feed in a microbial fuel cell, they convert chemical energy into electrical energy that we can measure,” Dr. Mirella Di Lorenzo, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Bath, explained.

“We found that when we injected a pollutant into the water there was an immediate drop in the electric current they produced. The drop was proportional to the amount of toxin present and the current is recovered once the toxin levels fell.

“This means we are able to monitor the level of pollutants in the water in real time without having to collect multiple samples and take them to a laboratory.

“Because this system uses live bacteria, it acts a bit like a canary in a mine, showing how these chemicals affect living organisms.”

As the University of Bath press release states, scientists currently use the costly method of fish or daphnia to detect water pollutants. Another method involves mass spectrometry which requires alot of specialist equipment and expertise, making it unsuitable for widespread use. Simply put, this new device might be a game-changer.

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