A gel based E. coli detection process developed in Canada promises to identify contaminated drinking water in a fraction of the time of current systems.
A team from Toronto’s York University has launched start-up company Glacierclean after creating the Mobile Water Kit, which it has tested successfully in the slums of Delhi.
The team developed a porous transparent hydrogel matrix that changes colour within one hour of coming into contact with bacteria-infected water.
According to Naga Siva Gunda, president and CTO of Glacierclean, “it is very simple. We have two components – one is a plunger with filter paper and another one is a tube with hydrogel, which has different types of chemicals encapsulated. After collecting the water sample in the tube we need to wait for one hour so that we can see the results, it’s very simple.”
Test results can be instantly broadcast to people in the locality by a mobile app developed by the team.
The hydrogel was developed by a team led by Professor Sushanta Mitra at his Micro and Nano-scale Transport Laboratory on York’s Toronto campus.
“Currently no other technology is available in the market, which can detect E. coli between two minutes to an hour, so that’s what makes it so rapid,” Mitra told Reuters.
“Secondly you don’t need any trained person to do this. You can do the water testing right at the source, so there is no worry about transporting the samples.”
Traditional testing involves sending water in bottles to a laboratory, a process that can take 48 hours.
Mitra says each test costs $2-3 USD, a fraction of the cost of traditional testing, making it feasible for large-scale use in developing world communities. It’s also easy to administer, merely involving using a syringe pre-loaded with the hydrogel.
Glacierclean has developed partnerships with NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and public health programs in remote parts of Canada, and Mitra thinks the kits could be sold in grocery stores and be given out by NGOs in the developing world.
Mitra says field tests don’t just help in checking the efficacy of the product.
He said: “These kind of field trials also helps in terms of packaging of the products, the ergonomics of the use of the products. Technology is not the bottle neck. What really matters is how user friendly is our mobile water kit. That is what we want to improve through these various field trials and we believe we are on the right track, so that in a year’s time Glacierclean Technologies will have mobile water kit in the shelves of the supermarket.”
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The team is currently developing its second prototype – Mobile Water Kit 2 – which it hopes to field test in India soon.
Mitra and his team has also developed a rapid and low-cost technology to treat contaminated water, called ‘DipTreat’. It involves dipping specially prepared filter paper into drinking water. The paper contains three strips, the first of which contains glucose.
“The E. coli are attracted and they move into this paper strip, which is filled with glucose,” said researcher Saumyadeb Dasgupta. “Once inside, because of the capillary action, the bacteria flows along with the water and then moves into this second strip which we have which contains naturally occurring antimicrobial agent. So what that antimicrobial agent does is basically kills the flowing E. coli through prolonged contact.”
He added: “Once the water moves away from the second strip and goes into the third strip, which also contains glucose, what happens basically is whatever bacteria are not killed by this antimicrobial agent those bacteria get trapped by this third strip.”
The Mobile Water Kit is among a number of projects hoping to improve water testing in remote settings. US-based Aquagenx last year released a new version of its Compartment Bag Test (CBT) called the CBT II Kit.
According to its website, the U.S. Forest Service is also working on two portable analysis kits – “one for fecal coliforms and one for E. coli-that enable the complete cycle of sample processing, incubation and colony counting to be completed in remote areas.”
A report last year by the World Health Organization stated that more than 840,000 people die annually from preventable diarrheal diseases caused by contaminates water and poor sanitation and hygiene.