Working with a team of collaborators, Vladislav Yakovlev, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, has developed an ultrasensitive detection method that can detect molecules associated with human and animal fecal matter in water systems. These extremely small indicators, he explains, have been traditionally difficult to detect but can signal greater levels of contamination, which can lead to illness and even death.
The team’s research is funded by the National Science Foundation and is featured in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.” It details the development of technology that Yakovlev characterizes as affordable, highly sensitive, easy to implement and capable of delivering analysis of water samples in real time.”
Contamination events might be mitigated or even avoided if samples from water systems are more thoroughly analyzed, Yakovlev said. Finding trace amounts of contaminants can help sound the alarm for a more serious contamination event, he noted.
Detecting trace amounts isn’t easy, especially in a timely manner, Yakovlev said. High costs, sample-size limitations and lengthy analysis times have prevented environmental researchers from employing highly sensitive techniques that can deliver real-time analysis.
Yakovlev and his colleagues are poised to change things with an innovative approach to detecting urobilin, a byproduct excreted in the urine and feces of many mammals, including humans and livestock.
Urobilin molecules are small and diffuse quickly. In addition, urobilin possesses another interesting property: it glows – or more accurately, it can be made to glow. When mixed with zinc ions, urobilin forms a phosphorescent compound, Yakovlev explained. This means if urobilin is present in a water sample – and zinc ions have been added – the sample will give off a greenish glow when examined under an ultraviolet light.
Yakovlev and his team have developed technology that allows them to detect extremely small amounts of urobilin in large samples of water. The technology provides actual concentration levels of the contaminant, and does it much quicker than other methods.
The technology can be produced for a few hundred dollars, and Yakovlev and his team are working to commercialize it. It has the potential to work like a smoke detector for a water faucet.
Texas benefits from rain, but drought remains
Nearly all of Texas continued to receive rain after Memorial Day storms, further improving the prospects of spring crop plantings and existing pastures and rangeland, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service reports from throughout the state.