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Water-Related News

New technology delivers fast, easy results on water quality

Handheld platform technology uses single sample to test for a variety of contaminants

A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

Likened to a pregnancy test, the handheld platform uses one sample to provide an easy-to-read positive or negative result. When the test detects a contaminant exceeding the EPA’s standards, it glows green.

Led by researchers at Northwestern University, the tests can sense 17 different contaminants, including toxic metals such as lead and copper, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and cleaning products. The platform — which is powered by cell-free synthetic biology — is so flexible that researchers can continually update it to sense more pollutants.

“Current water tests rely on a centralized laboratory that contains really expensive equipment and requires expertise to operate,” said Northwestern’s Julius Lucks, who led the study. “Sending in a sample can cost up to $150 and take several weeks to get results. We’re offering a technology that enables anyone to directly test their own water and know if they have contamination within minutes. It’s so simple to use that we can put it into the hands of the people who need it most.”

The research was published today (July 6) in the journal Nature Biotechnology. Lucks is a professor of chemical and biological engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and a member of the Center for Synthetic Biology. Jaeyoung Jung and Khalid Alam, members of Lucks’ laboratory, are co-first authors of the paper.