The Facts

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'Drinking water in the U.S. is among the top four public health risks posed by environmental problems.' --Former EPA Administrator William K. Reilly
According to some estimates, arsenic in drinking-water will cause 200,000 – 270,000 deaths from cancer in Bangladesh alone. --NRC, 1998; Smith, et al, 2000
Field test kits can detect high levels of arsenic but are typically unreliable at lower concentrations of concern for human health. Reliability of field methods is yet to be fully evaluated. Guidelines for drinking-water quality, 2nd ed.Geneva, World Health Organization, 1996.

Example of Water Testing System


Accurate measurement of arsenic in drinking-water at levels relevant to health requires laboratory analysis, using sophisticated and expensive techniques and facilities as well as trained staff not easily available or affordable in many parts of the world. --Guidelines for drinking-water quality, 2nd ed. Geneva, WHO, 1996.

Around the world, contamination of drinking water is an immense problem that is difficult and expensive to detect with current technology. As such, many 3rd World countries are unable to effectively diagnose the problem across the millions of water supply sources that exist.

There is a need for a low cost, transportable, and user friendly detection system for water contamination that can be used in the field reliably.

Brown University’s Team Conductance aims to create a biosensor that interfaces biological and electrical systems and acts as a novel electrical reporting system, for which one use would be to detect toxins in water supplies.

Brown IGEM's project drew inspiration from the 2007 Brown IGEM Team's Lead Sensor Project. The problem of water contamination throughout the world motivated us to broaden our project to other toxins rather than just Lead. Arsenic, Mercury, and Lead can all be detected with our simple genetic construct. More importantly is the sensitivity of the design. One of the goals of the summer was to keep the bacterial solution small. We started with larger bacterial solutions and gradually decreased the volume so that our electrical biosensor would be able to work with just a fraction of a milliliter of contaminated water. The Brown IGEM Biosensor provides a sensitive detection method that is also portable, simple to reproduce and cheap to manufacture.