TEMPE, Ariz. Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old killing as many as 1.5 million children worldwide every year. These startling statistics from the World Health Organization (2009) point to the reason why a group of undergraduate students from Arizona State University is working to develop a low-cost biosensor a simple device that would detect contaminated drinking water.
An interdisciplinary team of nine students is participating in the 2012 International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition a prestigious global event that challenges students to design and build simple biological systems made from standard, interchangeable parts.
The ASU team started its research during the summer to prepare for the competition. Its goal is to create a user-friendly, DNA-based biosensor that can detect major pathogens. The low-cost device would be used in the field rather than in a laboratory.
"We are developing a biosensor that will detect pathogenic bacteria, such as Shigella, Salmonella, and E. coli, that cause diarrhea," said Ryan Muller, an undergraduate student in ASU's School of Life Sciences and an iGEM team leader. "Ideally, you would use our biosensor to check different water supplies in third world countries to determine whether the water is safe to drink."
The team is working on two biosensor designs.
"The first one targets DNA," explained Nisarg Patel, a molecular biosciences and biotechnology major in School of Life Sciences, as well as a political science major. "Since each type of pathogen has different DNA, we want to create complementary sequences sequences that match a specific DNA. We will take bacterial samples from the water, pull out the DNA and check whether it complements our DNA probe. If it does, it will produce a color response and then we'll know that the water is contaminated."
Made for portability, Patel said the second desi
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Arizona State University