Water toxicity system developed

Biologist Scott Gallager of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has developed a water toxicity sensor system called the Swimming Behavioral Spectophotometer that uses the swimming patterns of protozoa to detect if water is safe for drinking.

The technique was recently published by the Association of University Technology Managers in their Better World Report, according to Zee News.

SBS works by adding protozoa into small chambers of water samples taken from military, municipal or industrial water sources and comparing them to control water samples. If the protozoa’s swimming mechanics change, it is a sign that there may be a biological or chemical contaminant like biological warfare agents, pesticides or industrial chemicals.

The system includes a camera that detects the swimming patterns of the protozoa and incorporates software that interprets the risk of the water as either safe - green - in need of further checking - yellow - or bad and deadly - red. The system gives immediate feedback on the water safety.

“It’s a very rapid approach to providing a continuous monitoring for the potential presence of toxins,” Gallager said, according to Zee News.

The project was conceived with one of Gallager's former colleagues at WHOI, Wade McGillis, while the two examined the potential effects of climate change on microscopic plankton. With their findings, they believed that with the unique methods that protozoa have to propel themselves through water, they might serve well as a guide to water safety.