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Scientists Develop Oil Spill and Pollution Spotting Bacteria

A team of researchers have developed a color-coded bacteria that will make it much easier to detect oil-spills and other forms of environmental pollution.

During a recent sea expedition the team successfully used the bacteria, which contains a protein that glows blue when viewed though a simple light-detecting device, to detect oil.

The bacteria is less environmentally damaging than the chemical detection agents currently used, as well as being cheaper to produce and easier to use. According to project leader Professor Jan Van der Meer of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, “Because bacteria have simple single-celled bodies, it is relatively easy to equip them with a sensor and a brightly colored reporter protein which shows up under a microscope, alerting us to different substances leaking into the soil or seawater.”

The same methods could also be used in hospitals, or to analyse food samples. Using the technique, it should also be possible to develop more compex miniature sensors containing several different types of bacteria that respond to different chemicals. According to Van der Meer, “You could imagine stand-alone systems such as buoys, in which bacteria sensors screen the presence of polluting compounds continuously.”

Image credit – marinephotobank via on a Creative Commons license

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is a writer and freelance journalist specialising in sustainability and green issues. He lives in Cardiff, Wales.


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