Oct 23, 2014

'Super Detector' Tracks Toxic Algae

A Ph.D. student's research may save lives

Cyanobacteria, Toxic Algae, Water, Warm Climates, Lund University

A "super detector" that can track the traces of a lump of sugar in the Baltic Sea was the starting point for a potentially life-saving technique developed at Lund University in Sweden. The method detects toxic algae blooms in drinking water.

A biosensor recently developed at Lund University can detect substances at 10,000 times lower concentrations than what is currently possible. PhD student Lesedi Lebogang found a practical application that could be particularly helpful in warm climates such as Africa, Australia and the southern U.S.

Toxic algae, or cyanobacteria, is seen increasingly around the world, possibly as a result of over-fertilization and global warming. Early detection could save lives and make efforts to clean up drinking water sources easier and more efficient. The technique utilizes a portable, affordable and quick-to-use device.

The detector works via a sensor that picks up small biochemical signals that are then amplified and converted into measurable electric signals.

Lebogang was able to further develop the sensor by adding antibody chemicals that track toxins in cyanobacteria. When the bacteria burst, they release a variety of toxins that the antibodies respond to, and the sensor reacts.

”Adapting the analytical system to a real-life situation was the most challenging part of the research,” Lebogang said.

The detector device was developed by biotechnology researchers Bo Mattiasson and Martin Hedström at Lund University.