The taster in your water line
Jan 06, 2011
Although drinking water is monitored more strictly than almost anything, our water supply network is still not immune to accidents, wear and tear or targeted attacks. A one-minute warning system for toxins and other substances in water hazardous to health could set off alarms in future if there is a danger.
The micro-organisms in the sensor were modified so that they produce a protein that has a red fluorescence. The fluorescence changes if it comes into contact with toxic substances. A highly sensitive camera system that the Karlsruhe, Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB came up with has an analysis unit that registers even the most minute changes in fluorescence and then analyzes them automatically. Dr. Thomas Bernard, the group manager at the IOSB, tells us why: ”The monitoring unit has a machine-learning process for learning from historical data which fluctuations in the physical, chemical and biological parameters are normal. It sets off an alarm if an unusual pattern shows up in the signals.” The bio-sensor reacts to the smallest quantities of hazardous substances and Dr. Trick provides the explanation: “Our sensor can document even very slight concentrations.” Let’s not forget that classical poisons such as cyanide or ricin as well as plant protectives or toxic metabolic products from bacteria can be fatal even in concentrations of nanograms per liter.
They have to guarantee optimum life conditions for the microorganisms to operate the bio-sensor on a permanent basis. This is the reason why the researchers at the IOSB have come up with a system that automatically monitors and regulates important parameters such as temperature and inflow of nutrients. Another component of the Aqua-BioTox system is a daphnia toximeter of their Kiel, Germany-based project partner bbe Moldaenke, who noticed that water fleas react particularly sensitively to nerve poisons. They are testing this monitoring system in a closed performance route on the grounds of Berlin‘s water company, that is incidentally another partner in this project. The idea behind it is making the system as small and cost-effective as possible so that a network of sensor units communicating with one another could be installed that is distributed over sensitive points in the drinking water network.
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