Antibodies Used To Sense Marine Pollution, Oil Spills

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Photo by Adam_d_ via Flickr CC

We're used to antibodies searching for germs and viruses within our own bodies, and now that same concept is put to use for marine pollution. Researchers at Virginia Institute of Marine Science have developed antibodies that can detect polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), the chemicals within oil spills, and have devised a sensor that can be used to find, and measure, pollutants. Smart Planet interviewed Michael Unger of Virginia Institute of Marine Science on the new technology. Unger and his group created the antibodies that would detect PAHs, and worked with Sapidyne Instruments to develop the sensor device. The team's new instrument "can detect down to parts per billion concentrations, which is necessary for environmental monitoring. And it's rapid. We can get results in a few minutes," Unger states.

Unger and his team has tested out the new anibody-based sensor in Elizabeth River, which is contaminated with creosote. "[The sensor] enabled us to go to the site while they were initiating the dredging and monitor the PAH concentrations in the water column. We were able to document that the concentrations stayed low," Unger told Smart Planet.

What is especially exciting is that the new antibody-based sensor could be modified to look at many different contaminants, including TNT which has contaminated the groundwater near military defense bases. Just earlier today, we learned about another new sensor that uses carbon nanotubes coated with proteins found in bee venom which can also detect contaminants like TNT, only in the air rather than water.

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