Editorial Feature

Could Microbial Sensors Revolutionize Water Analysis?

Water is a fundamental necessity for life, and it is crucial to monitor water quality regularly to ensure it meets safety standards for human and environmental health. Amidst the limitations of traditional water quality monitoring techniques, microbial sensors offer promising solutions and are poised to revolutionize water quality monitoring.

Could Microbial Sensors Revolutionize Water Analysis?

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The Importance of Water Quality Monitoring

Water quality monitoring involves the analysis of various chemical, physical, and biological parameters to determine the safety and healthfulness of water for various uses. Monitoring is necessary to prevent exposure to harmful contaminants, prevent disease outbreaks, and ensure water meets regulatory standards.

Traditional water quality monitoring techniques involve the analysis of water samples in laboratories using chemical and physical techniques. These techniques can detect a broad range of contaminants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, and pathogens. However, the process is time-consuming, expensive, and does not provide real-time monitoring capabilities.

Another challenge of traditional monitoring techniques is that they do not provide comprehensive information about microbial contamination, a significant public health concern.

Pathogens in water can cause waterborne diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. Microbial contamination can occur from various sources, such as agricultural runoff, wastewater treatment plants, and faulty sewage systems. Therefore, there is a need for rapid, accurate, and affordable methods to detect and monitor microbial contamination in water as well.

What Are Microbial Sensors and How Do They Work?

Microbial sensors are a promising alternative to traditional monitoring techniques, as they can provide real-time monitoring of harmful substances and microbial contamination in water. They are biosensors that detect microbial contaminants by measuring the changes in the electrical or optical properties of the sensor in response to microbial interactions.

The microbial sensors consist of a biological recognition element and a transducer. The biological recognition element is usually a microbe or an antibody that is specific to the target microbe. The transducer is a material that converts the biological signal into a measurable signal, such as an electrical or optical signal.

When microbial contamination occurs, the biological recognition element binds to the target microbe, causing a change in the transducer's signal. The signal change is proportional to the concentration of the microbe present in the water sample. The transducer's signal is then amplified and detected by a signal processor, which displays the microbial concentration in real-time.

Microbial sensors can be designed to detect specific microbes, such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Vibrio cholerae, or a broad range of microbes using DNA-based biosensors.

Applications of Microbial Sensors in Water Quality Monitoring

Microbial sensors have a broad range of applications in water quality monitoring, including detecting pathogens, organic compounds, and heavy metals. They can be used to monitor water quality in various settings, such as rivers, lakes, and wastewater treatment plants.

One example of microbial sensors in use is the detection of Cryptosporidium, a protozoan parasite that causes diarrheal disease in humans and animals. Cryptosporidium is challenging to detect using traditional monitoring techniques because it is resistant to chlorine, a common disinfectant. However, microbial sensors can detect Cryptosporidium at low concentrations and in real time, providing early warning of water contamination.

Microbial sensors can also be used to monitor organic compounds, such as pesticides and herbicides. Organic compounds can cause various health problems, including cancer and reproductive disorders.

Microbial sensors can detect these compounds at low concentrations, making them useful in agricultural settings where these compounds are commonly used. For example, microbial sensors have been used to monitor herbicides in irrigation water, providing early detection of contamination and preventing exposure to harmful levels of these compounds.

Another application of microbial sensors is in detecting heavy metals, which are toxic at high concentrations. Heavy metals can enter water sources from various sources, such as mining activities, industrial discharges, and natural weathering of rocks. Microbial sensors can detect these heavy metals in real time and at low concentrations, providing a means for early contamination detection.

Industry Overview and Commercialization of Microbial Sensors

The development of microbial sensors has led to a new industry focused on water quality monitoring. The market for water quality sensors is expected to grow significantly in the coming years, driven by increasing demand for safe drinking water and stringent regulations on water quality.

A report by Grand View Research shows that the global biosensor market was valued at $26.8 billion in 2022, while Markets and Markets projects $36.7 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 7.5% from 2021 to 2026.

Various companies are involved in the development and commercialization of microbial sensors, such as Endress+Hauser, Hach Company, and Xylem Inc. These companies offer a range of microbial sensors for different applications, such as water treatment, agriculture, and environmental monitoring.

For example, Hach Company offers the Hach BioTector B7000i, a real-time microbial sensor that detects bacteria and viruses in water. The sensor provides early detection of microbial contamination, enabling water treatment operators to take prompt action to prevent contamination of drinking water.

Conclusion

The importance of water quality monitoring cannot be overstated, as it is essential for protecting human health and the environment. However, traditional monitoring techniques have limitations that make them unsuitable for real-time and cost-effective monitoring.  

Microbial sensors, on the other hand, offer a promising alternative, providing real-time and sensitive monitoring of microbial contamination in water. With their ability to detect pathogens, organic compounds, and heavy metals, microbial sensors have various applications in water quality monitoring.

Moreover, the development of microbial sensors has created a new industry focused on water quality monitoring, driven by increasing demand for safe drinking water and stringent regulations on water quality.

Therefore, microbial sensors are poised to revolutionize the way we monitor and manage water resources, providing early detection of contamination and ensuring safe and healthy water for everyone.

Continue reading: Can E.coli Be Used to Detect Heavy Metals in Water?

References and Further Reading

Akhlaqul Karomah, (2022). The Different Methods of Monitoring Water Quality [Online]. AZoCleantech URL https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=1475 

Grand View Research. (2021). Global Biosensors Market Size Analysis & Growth Report 2030 [Online], Grand View Research. URL https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/biosensors-market 

Hach. (2023) Hach BioTector B7000i Online TOC Analyzer, 0 - 10000 mg/L C, 1 stream, 115 V AC [Online], Hach. URL https://www.hach.com/p-hach-biotector-b7000i-toc-analyzer/B7AAAA052AABAA2 

Markets and Markets. (2021). Biosensors Market Size, Share, Industry Trends, Companies, Growth Analysis - 2032 [Online], MarketsandMarkets. URL https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/biosensors-market-798.html 

Rachel Calder. (2023). Water Quality Monitoring by Bacterial Biosensors. Science Connected Magazine. URL https://magazine.scienceconnected.org/2023/03/water-quality-monitoring-by-bacterial-biosensors/ 

Srivastava, P., Prasad, D., Nigam, V.K. (2022). Chapter 19 - Insight into microbial biosensors: Design, types and applications, in: Verma, P., Shah, M.P. (Eds.), Bioprospecting of Microbial Diversity. Elsevier, pp. 425–440. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-323-90958-7.00003-0

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Blaise Manga Enuh

Written by

Blaise Manga Enuh

Blaise Manga Enuh has primary interests in biotechnology and bio-safety, science communication, and bioinformatics. Being a part of a multidisciplinary team, he has been able to collaborate with people of different cultures, identify important project needs, and work with the team to provide solutions towards the accomplishment of desired targets. Over the years he has been able to develop skills that are transferrable to different positions which have helped his accomplish his work.

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