Turbo test for drinking water
Clean water is vital. Especially after natural catastrophes or in the event of epidemics, it is important to determine quickly whether a water source is contaminated. What used to take many hours or even days is now to be reduced to 60 minutes by a new device.
A cyclone in Mozambique, an earthquake in Haiti, but also floods in Bavaria – one of the first measures is to ensure a stable drinking water supply as quickly as possible. However, every water source must first be checked for impurities and pathogens. So far, experts have been bringing samples to the laboratory, cultivating bacterial cultures and analysing them. The procedure takes several hours – for cholera bacteria even days and for Legionella more than a week.
THE SOONER THE BETTER
“That’s the time we don’t have when a drinking water supply has to be jump-started after a catastrophe,” says Prof. Hans-Joachim Krause from Jülich’s Institute of Complex Systems (ICS-8). AquaNANO is supposed to change that. With the device, which is about the size of a milk carton, aid organisations or water suppliers can test samples on site within an hour. AquaNANO is a joint project involving Hans-Joachim Krause and his doctoral student Stefan Achtsnicht as well as researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the medical technology company DITABIS AG. To determine the type and quantity of a pollutant, the researchers use magnetic nanoprobes coated with antibodies against the pollutant. These nanoprobes can be detected easily and quickly. There is one limitation, however: “Only substances for which antibodies already exist can be found,” says Achtsnicht. “While we’re working on the read-out technique – that is, the process of measuring and evaluating the magnetic particles – the biologists at IME are developing new antibodies.”
OPTIMISED FOR USE
In a follow-up project, the prototype is now to become a robust tool. “We accompanied the Agency for Technical Relief during several exercises. What we learned this way is which requirements a mobile drinking water laboratory has to meet in practice. For example, the device has to function both at high and low temperatures,” Achtsnicht explains. In the future, AquaNANO will also be able to run on a rechargeable battery, be more intuitive to use and be able to test a sample for multiple contaminations simultaneously.
Jannis Lindner and Martha Peters