Protozoan swimming style helps detect toxins in water

Last Updated: Mon, Jun 21, 2010 11:00 hrs

The swimming pattern of protozoa can be a low-cost method of identifying water toxins, according to a new study.

Several species of protozoa are covered in hair-like cilia that beat in a coordinated way to propel them through a fluid.

Chemicals in the fluid can interfere with the transport of calcium to the cilia, with different chemicals bringing about a marked alteration in the microbes' swimming style, points out Robert Curtis at Petrel Biosensors, a spin-out of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

For the study, Curtis's team placed protozoans in test solutions containing different common toxins, and used a camera to assess the resulting swimming patterns.

Using these as reference points, the researchers are now developing a device that uses algorithms to match the microbes' swimming style in a water sample to the toxin present, if any.

"You can see very distinct patterns of swimming, so we can say if it's a heavy metal toxin or a phospho-organic toxin," The New Scientist quoted Curtis, as saying.

According to the company, the instrument will be priced around 15,000dollars.

Each test will cost 1 to 2dollars and take around 30 seconds, unlike tests with existing devices, which can cost up to 400dollars and take two to three days, said Curtis. (ANI)