Taking a huge leap in the detection of pollutants, Tel Aviv University researchers have developed a highly accurate nano-scale biomonitoring laboratory to keep water safe from pollution and bioterrorist threats.
Developed by a team led by Prof. Yosi Shacham-Diamand, vice-dean of TAU's Faculty of Engineering, the "lab on a chip" is a breakthrough because it has combined biology with the cutting-edge capabilities of nanotechnology.
The nanolab complete with a microscopic workbench can measure water quality in real time.
"We've developed a platform - essentially a micro-sized, quarter-inch square 'lab' - employing genetically engineered bacteria that light up when presented with a stressor in water," said Prof. Shacham-Diamand.
Equipment on the little chip can work to help detect very tiny light levels produced by the bacteria.
Shacham-Diamand also said that instead of using animals to help detect threats to a water supply, "our system is based on a plastic chip that is more humane, much faster, more sensitive and much cheaper."
"Basically, ours is an innovative advance in the 'lab on a chip' system. It's an ingenious nano-scale platform designed to get information out of biological events. Our solution can monitor water with never-before-achieved levels of accuracy. But as a platform, it can also be used for unlimited purposes, such as investigating stem cell therapies or treating cancer."
The nanolabs can be used to evaluate several biological processes with practical applications, such as microbes in water, stem cells, or breast cancer development.
Now, researchers are joining hands with other Israeli scientists for building and commercialising its water-testing mini-labs to measure and monitor how genetically engineered bacteria respond to pollution such as E. coli in water.
Also, the researchers are exploring other uses of the method-the new lab-on-a-chip could become a defensive weapon that protects America from biological warfare.
Shacham-Diamand said that his system could be also modified to react to chemical threats and pollution and could also be updated as new threats are detected.
The study was recently published in the journal Nano Letters.