In our June 2013 newsletter we featured an article on a sensor, known as an Environmental Sample Processor (ESP), described as a garbage can size canister that was launched in the ocean waters off southern Maine to collect and transmit data about toxin producing algae blooms, known as red tides. The sensors contained a pint size robotic biology lab that extracted organisms from water samples, tested them for DNA and toxins, and instantly sent the information to shore by cell phone. The ESP’s were mounted to ocean buoys in the Gulf of Maine. Now researchers in Maine have announced a new device to detect red tide.
Last month the University of Maine announced their researchers had designed “a handheld device that can quickly detect disease causing and toxin producing pathogens, including algal species that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.”
The water resistant instrument called a colorimeter was built with mostly off the shelf commercial parts and cost about $200 to build. A touch screen prompts users at each step when using the device. The colorimeters low cost, easy use and portability make it an important development.
Interestingly, it was a diverse group of researchers who worked on this project, coming from many different departments and disciplines at the University of Maine including, the Electrical and Computer engineering Department, the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, the Graduate School of biomedical Science and Engineering, the Department of Chemistry, the School of Marine Sciences and the Department of Molecular and Biomedical Sciences.
The researchers feel the device could be instrumental in monitoring coastal water in real time, thus preventing human deaths and beach closures. The colorimeter is being included in fresh and marine water testing in the Republic of Korea and given to Maine state officials to test.