Science 3 min read

New Smartphone Device Could Provide Clean Water to Millions

Arsenic is one of the most dangerous contaminants in global water supplies. Now, a new smartphone device may eradicate its risk completely. ¦ Pixabay

Arsenic is one of the most dangerous contaminants in global water supplies. Now, a new smartphone device may eradicate its risk completely. ¦ Pixabay

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have developed a smartphone device that could potentially save millions of lives.

Water contamination caused by heavy metal is a global health issue. According to UNICEF, 140 million people across the world drink water that’s contaminated with arsenic.

Also, an estimate shows that about 20 million Bangladesh residents – mainly in rural and poor areas – drink arsenic contaminated water. The consequence of consuming such heavy metal is serious.

Not only could long-term exposure to the poisoned water cause skin lesions and cancer, but it’s also linked with 20 percent of all deaths in the affected regions.

As such, a simple, affordable, on-site solution that could help identify the contamination level in water sources becomes necessary.

That’s where this new smartphone device comes in.

Using Your Smartphone to Identify Unsafe Arsenic Level in Water

The researchers at Edinburgh University created a biosensor that uses bacteria to detect unsafe arsenic levels. Here is the best part; users just have to attach the device to their smartphones to use it.

The current method of checking for contamination in water is not only tricky, but it also requires special laboratory equipment. That means, only healthcare professionals could use it.

According to the publication in Nature Chemical Biology, the new device displays the level of contamination in a pattern that’s similar to a volume bar. So, you don’t have to be a tech genius or professionals to interpret the readings.

As a result, the researchers expect the device to be handy in countries with limited access to skilled personnel or healthcare facilitates to test for contamination.

So, how does the device work?

To develop the biosensor, first, the researchers had to manipulate the genetic code of the bacteria Escherichia coli. So, they added genetic components to act as amplifiers in the presence of arsenic.

Next, the researchers suspended the bacteria in a gel contained in a plastic device and poured water samples in. The result was a fluorescent protein that became visible in the presence of arsenic.

Co-author of the study, Dr. Baojun Wang of the School of Biological Sciences, the University of Edinburgh noted:

“We tested our sensors with samples from wells in a village in Bangladesh. The arsenic levels reported by the sensors was consistent with lab-based standard tests, demonstrating the device’s potential as a simple low-cost-use monitoring tool.”

The researchers believe that the device could serve as a framework for a new approach of detecting environmental toxins, diagnosing diseases and even locating land mines.

Read More: Clean 99% of Heavy Metals from Water With This Reusable Filter

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Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

Comments (4)
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  1. Profile Image
    Lisa Gaillard April 02 at 10:10 am GMT

    Thanks for taking the time to explain how the device works in such great detail in a way that is easy to understand!

    • Profile Image
      Shannon Harrington April 03 at 10:59 am GMT

      What is a safe level of arsenic? Does boiling water remove arsenic?

      • Profile Image
        Isaac Hesson April 04 at 2:30 pm GMT

        10 ug/L or 10 ppb. Sadly, it will not remove arsenic.

        • Profile Image
          Shannon Harrington April 14 at 9:55 am GMT

          Thanks Isaac, just got confused about the special laboratory equipment needed to attach? Does it mean the smartphone cannot stand alone and still needing another device?

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