What is it about?

Gold nanoparticles and bacteria are incorporated in ‘living’ sensors to detect metal toxins in tap water and wastewater. Bacteria have a chemical response as part of their defense mechanism to toxins before cell death occurs; the chemical signal is broadcasted with gold nanoparticle antennas. Machine learning algorithms decode the optical signals from gold nanoparticles to report the presence and concentration of toxins.

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Why is it important?

Contaminated water is a major source of toxic heavy metal exposure for animals and people. As heavy metal use in a wide variety of industrial and agricultural processes is growing exponentially, the development of portable and low-cost sensors is needed to monitor the influx of heavy metal contaminants into the water supply. The sensitivity, speed, and versatility of this method, which can be broadly deployed to monitor the introduction of toxins - at the source - in drinking & irrigation water, and agricultural & industrial runoff, can provide early warning of heavy metal contamination to safeguard ecosystems and human health.


Access to safe water is necessary for the health of people and the planet. New technology that can be mass manufactured at low-cost is needed to monitor the introduction of an array of contaminants in the water supply as a critical part of the solution for water security in the face of pollution and climate change.

Regina Ragan
University of California Irvine

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Decoding the metabolic response of Escherichia coli for sensing trace heavy metals in water, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2210061120.
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