Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Positive of Protozoa

Protozoa, such as Toxoplasmosis gondii (the infectious agent of toxoplasmosis), may appear to be solely malignant organisms that infect a large portion of the worlds population, however, scientists working for Massachusetts-based company Petrel Biosensors have found an extremely beneficial use for the nasty single-celled organisms: testing water quality.

Sure we have modern methods to test water quality, however this newly developed technology, called Swimming Behavioral Spectrophotometer or “SBS”, is able to accomplish that task in a much cheaper and faster way than our current technologies.

The system, designed by Scott Gallager, detects toxins in the water supply through analysis of how the protozoa move throughout the sample. Most toxins are known to disrupt calcium transport and since the hair-like cilia responsible for protozoan motion are sensitive to aqueous calcium content, the presence of toxins can cause an erratic and irregular response in the microorganism (see original article on

This new method has a variety of applications including water monitoring for public drinking water supplies, for military units in the field, and for industrial waste discharge. Because the SBS acts as a “real-time” test, the quality of the water can be determined very quickly and appropriate action can be taken immediately. And at $1 to $2 per test, Gallager’s protozoan-dependent method presents a cheap and affordable system which rivals laboratory analyses ranging from $50 to $250 per evaluation.

However, in order to get his SBS technology moving forward, Gallager predicts that the company will need at least $2 million, on top of the $1 million Department of Defense grant already received, to get his new technology distributed to the world.

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