COLLEGE STATION, TX (CBS Houston) –A research team is developing a device that is capable of sampling pool water to see if it contains fecal matter or urine.

Vladislav Yakovlev, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University, is leading the team. The device can detect contamination that is thousands of times smaller than what can be found by other methods.

Animal and human waste can carry diseases such as polio, typhoid, and cholera. Once a source of water is contaminated, plants, animals and people who depend on that water supply can be devastated

Yakovlev noted in the study that “finding trace amounts of contaminants such as fecal matter in water systems can help sound the alarm for a serious contamination event because these trace amounts likely originate from a larger source in the water system.”

Yakovlev and his team are are targeting urobilin, the chemical compound that turns urine yellow. “This means if urobilin is present in a water sample – and zinc ions have been added – the sample will give off a greenish glow when examined under an ultraviolet light.”

They do this through a device called “integrated cavity,” a hollow, cylindrical container that was made in the lab. The water sample is added into the cylinder. The sample then interacts with zinc. A laser light is beamed into the object through a small hole. The light will glow if it sensors urobilin.

Yakovlev says the goal of his team is to test an entire water supply with the fewest samples possible.

“This is a huge improvement in terms of sensitivity,” he said,” and our technique has tremendous potential for analysis of global drinking water supplies, particularly in developing nations and following natural disasters, where sophisticated laboratory equipment may not be available.”

Yakovlev says once perfected, this new technology will be able to test large water supplies cheaper and faster than conventional methods…and using lots of the devices will give analysts a much larger samples size to examine.

“This is a problem because it is unlikely that an accurate analysis of an overall water system can be derived from a small sample,” he added. Yakovlev went on to say that a large sample gives a more accurate reading of what’s in the water.

“The bigger the sample, the better,” Yakovlev said.

The team is currently working on commercializing this technology of detecting urobilin.

The research is funded by the National Science Foundation.  It has been featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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