Detecting Waterborne Diseases

Monday, 05 February, 2001

Electrokinetic techniques have been developed by researchers at the University of Wales to determine the infectiousness of the waterborne stage of cryptosporidium that causes diarrhoea and other diseases.

Using microelectronics, biology and sensors, Professor Ronald Pethig has perfected a technique that makes it much easier for a laboratory worker to scan water concentrate to search for the red parasites. A spinning electrical field can detect them on a slide, determine whether or not they are alive and capable of causing infection.

The research team has produced a 'biofactory on a chip' in which different processes in electrokinetic techniques are linked in an automated sequence. The basic interest in the streamlined technique is to determine the safety of drinking water.

Other interests that are now being investigated include particles that cause diseases such as herpes, E.coli and yeasts that are used for the production of beer and bread.

Practical applications for electrokinetic analysis include detecting bacteria in food or from someone that is ill. Whereas a conventional test requires an average 48-hour incubation period to increase the bacteria number to a small colony before detection, Professor Pethig's method can work with single organisms and takes only a few minutes to achieve the same results.

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