Until now, there hasn't been a simple, inexpensive and quick way to monitor water quality. But a team of entrepreneurs from Calgary, Canada, has developed a solution.
It's called FRED, for Field-Ready Electrochemical Detector, and it involves genetically engineered bacteria capable of sensing a variety of water-borne contaminants and in response, emitting an electric signal that indicates the level of contaminant.
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"You can leave this box on-site and then from there you can wirelessly monitor remote locations without needing to go there and physically take a sample yourself," Emily Hicks, one of six founders of FredSense Technologies, told FastCoExist.
The bacteria are housed in cartridges in a tester kit that can be used for spot tests in the field with the aid of a scientist or can be set up to work remotely.
In either case, water is injected - manually or automatically through tubes - into the cartridges, which contain the genetically engineered sensing bacteria, chemicals and other components required to complete the test.
If there is contamination, for example high levels of arsenic, the bacteria produces a chemical that is electroactive.
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A detector reads the response from the bacteria and after the reading is complete, a process that takes just one to two minutes, sends the electrical signal to a mobile phone or a server.
The signal can be accessed using 3G, Wi-Fi or a USB connection on a computer.
The scientists, who started working on FRED while undergraduates at the University of Calgary, have won several competitions for their device and recently achieved their crowdfunding goal on Boostr to advance their prototype.
The device could be used to test water near mining sites, water treatment plants or just about anywhere clean, fresh, water is needed.