Identifying deadly germs in drinking water – in minutes

Posted: Tuesday 24th April 2012

Cassidian Systems meets growing concerns about drinking water safety New test unit cuts checks for biological threats to just minutes Commercial and military applications

Deadly germs present in drinking water can be detected in minutes by a biosensor system developed by technologists based in South Wales and a German company.

Research, spearheaded by Cassidian Systems at its UK headquarters in Newport, has produced a small, automated unit capable of identifying dangerous pathogens in water which normally would take up to two days to detect in a laboratory.

“Growing concern about drinking water safety, and the highly distributive nature of water supplies, highlights the importance of being able to detect intentional contamination very quickly, so that it can be put right and the number of people affected by it identified,” said Cassidian’s Robert Aitchison.

“Examples would be hospital water supplies, where the intentional introduction of bacteria into a vulnerable environment could lead to a very serious situation, and in the food industry,” he said.

Mr Aitchison, who has helped develop the Filter Cytrometry unit with a Munich company, Alois Friedberger, said field trials last autumn with South West Water had confirmed its potential to produce reliable, real-time data during normal operations.

While further tests are required before the system can be adopted by the regulatory water industry, it has many commercial uses, such as in the food and drink industry, where food safety had always been vital but is now heightened by consumer expectations. It could also have military applications for pinpointing airborne biological agents. Cassidian plans to market it commercially in about a year.

The heart of the system is a micro-mechanical filter produced from a silicon wafer, using batch manufacturing methods similar to those for computer chips. Laser light detects the germs when they are mixed with industrially manufactured antibodies.

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