The water doctor

For the first time, a test for water pathogens in water is both quick and accurate, learns Alan Harman.
Issue date : 10 October 2008

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AN Australian diagnostic test for pathogenic organisms or chemical contamination in water can give results in minutes. C urrent methods are either sensitive but take up to three days for a result, or relatively fast but insensitive. R esearchers at Macquarie University, Sydney and Murdoch Perth have developed the new simple-to-use rapid infield diagnostic device, which will provide results directly to portable devices. “It will significantly improve water safety and reduce health risk from contaminated drinking water in areas affected by major catastrophes and in the developing world,”

Environmental Biotechnology Cooperative Research Centre executive director David says. “We’re developing technology to overcome the challenges of rapid pathogen detection, including effective sample concentration methods, more sensitive tests and portable in-field detection devices.” The technology mimics the human body’s ability to detect pathogens, using antibodies combined with nano- and microparticles, Garman says. “The key is our ability to break up an organism, then multiply parts of it by using a specific chemical at body temperature.

Similar systems require complex laboratory equipment or high temperatures, which aren’t viable in remote field operations.” he system will detect a broad range of organisms, including common waterborne contaminants such as faecal coliforms, E. coli, Legionella, Cryptosporidium and Giardia. The system is also highly adaptable to food, environmental and point of care applications.

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“There is a great, unmet need to rapidly detect microorganisms and contaminants in water, partly because of a more stringent regulatory environment, and because of increased concerns about the biosecurity of critical infrastructure,” Garman says. “Robust, highly specific results in the field will enhance the early detection and management of disease outbreaks and contamination.” |fw