Say Hello to My Little Friend: Living Bacteria Biosensors to Detect Pollution


Say Hello to My Little Friend
Detecting pollutants is extremely important. You can't do much about what you don't know, and with limited resources, you have to target your actions to where it will do most good. A new clever way to detect pollution using living bacteria that have been modified to glow when they detect certain chemicals is very promising and could make testing for pollutants faster and cheaper (though it won't be more precise than standard chemical tests).

Living Biosensors on the North Sea
These are not completely new. They have been in the lab for a long time, but they are only starting to be more widely used on the field. Swiss scientist Jan Van der Meer went to the North Sea aboard a research vessel to do some tests. Guess what he found?Detecting Oil Spills Early
He brought with him strains of bacteria that like to feast on certain chemicals found in oil spills, and after some tests, he did detect the early phase of an oil spill.

Catching an oil leak in its earliest stages is critical for directing appropriate cleanup efforts, says Van der Meer. A spill may not leave a visible trace, in the form of tar, until long after its most toxic effects have come and gone. By allowing for quick and easy detection of spills very soon after they occur, biosensor bacteria may make possible an earlier, more effective intervention.

Van der Meer wants to incorporate the biosensor bacteria into buoy-based devices, which would continuously monitor seawater for hints of an oil spill and relay pertinent information back to a laboratory. He has also made a strain that can detect arsenic in rice. Many other applications are possible.

Via Technology Review
Bacteria & Microbes
Geneticist Craig Venter Wants to Create Fuel from CO2
Bacteria: Now More Environmentally Friendly than Ever
Newsweek Interview: Craig Venter's CO2-Eating Miracle Bacterium

Tags: Bacteria | Food Safety | Toxins

Best of TreeHugger