Rapid, Specific, Sensor System for Pathogens in Water

EPA Contract Number: 68D02038
Title: Rapid, Specific, Sensor System for Pathogens in Water
Investigators: Tiernan, Timothy C.
Small Business: TPL Inc.
EPA Contact: Manager, SBIR Program
Phase: I
Project Period: April 1, 2002 through September 1, 2002
Project Amount: $69,046
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2002) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , SBIR - Monitoring , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


There is an important need for a water-monitoring technology that is capable of detecting a wide range of microbial and viral pathogens and their toxins. TPL, Inc., proposes an instrument system that could be used both in the laboratory or in the field for analyzing water quality for a wide range of contaminants, including microbial pathogens, Cryptosporidium, and viral pathogens.

The sensor system will be based on new technology under development by TPL and its research partners at the University of New Mexico. That technology will use protein molecules as probes for microbial and viral targets. The protein molecules used provide the system with an extremely high level of specificity and sensitivity for the pathogens of interest.

The probe proteins will be covalently bound to a micromachined sensor (or array of sensors), making the sensor durable and reusable. During operation, a stream of water or a water sample will be introduced to a test chamber in the water analysis instrument, where the aqueous sample comes in direct contact with the sensor. The analysis system will perform the desired analysis and output data concerning the type and concentration of analyte (e.g., pathogen) detected. The system does not rely on delicate laser detection systems or low levels of fluorescent light. The sensor will utilize an extremely sensitive microelectronic gravimetric device, known as an acoustic plate mode (APM) device. The proposed sensor can measure surface adsorption in either liquid or gas phase with picogram sensitivity and millisecond response time. High-speed digitization and digital signal processing techniques will be used to deconvolute the data contained in the APM acoustic wave modes generated by the sensor.

APM devices can be used as the basis for sensors using many different types of probe molecules, including proteins. This will allow the sensor to be used for a wide range of pathogens in water, with rapid measurements of a number of different types of pathogens for online monitoring. In a summary printed in R&D Magazine, April 1999, the Business Communications Company forecasted that the market for biosensors is expected to increase to $1.68 billion in 2003, from $765 million in 1998. Existing markets for sensors are in the environmental, government, industrial, research, and medical sectors. The competing technology is based mainly on the detection of fluorescent light. Problems encountered with this technology include low flux of light, large volumes of expensive fluorescent molecules, and inefficiency in light transfer in a liquid medium. The proposed sensor does not rely on light transfer, and has higher intrinsic sensitivity than fluorescence and surface plasmon resonance.

Supplemental Keywords:

small business, SBIR, microbial pathogens, Cryptosporidium, viral pathogens, protein molecules, acoustic plate mode device, water, drinking water, monitoring., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Monitoring/Modeling, Analytical Chemistry, Environmental Monitoring, Environmental Engineering, Drinking Water, Engineering, Chemistry, & Physics, monitoring, wastewater treatment, pathogens, real time analysis, aquatic organisms, contaminant transport, contaminants, field portable systems, field portable monitoring, human health effects, field monitoring, detection system, cryptosporidium , biomonitoring, stormwater, municipal wastewater, environmental chemistry, microbial risk management, water quality, field detection, emerging pathogens, water contaminants, antibodies, drinking water contaminants, drinking water treatment, human health, real-time monitoring, drinking water system

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final Report