Sentinel Bioactive Paper researchers at McMaster University develop rapid test strips for bacterial contamination in swimming water
Editors: links to video, a still image and the research paper appear
HAMILTON, ON, April 30, 2012 /CNW/ – Urban beach closures due to
coliform outbreaks have become disturbing signs of summer, yet
water-testing technology has never been fast enough to keep up with
changing conditions, nor accessible enough to check all waters.
Now, Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network funded researchers at McMaster
University have developed a rapid testing method using a simple paper
strip that can detect E. coli in recreational water within minutes. The
new tool can close the gap between outbreak and detection, improving
public safety globally.
Scientists have created and validated the viability of the test strip,
which can detect potentially harmful concentrations of E. coli in water
quickly and simply, with much greater accuracy than existing portable
The work is described in a paper published online in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.
“Coliforms are always a big problem,” says the paper’s lead author John
Brennan, a McMaster chemistry professor who holds the Canada Research
Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry. “The methods used to detect outbreaks
are slow, and tend not to be portable, as they often need a lab-based
amplification step prior to testing, causing a time lag between an
outbreak and a beach closure.”
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
funds Sentinel Bioactive Paper, a strategic research network that spans
Canada and is based at McMaster University. Several dozen researchers
are involved in its initiatives to detect, repel and deactivate air,
water, or food-borne pathogens to improve human health and safety.
“This is one of Sentinel’s most promising technology platforms and I
anticipate significant field studies in the next year, ” said Dr.
Robert Pelton, Sentinel’s Scientific Director and Director of McMaster
University Centre for Pulp and Paper Research.
Bioactive paper is both old and new, Brennan explains. Since the
late1950s, physicians have been using bioactive paper to test for
glucose in urine. In the last several years, the area has expanded
quickly and research has become very competitive as scientists work on
“It’s always a race,” Brennan says.
The new strips are coated with chemicals that react to the bacteria, and
are printed using inkjet technology similar to that found in standard
desktop printers. Within 30 minutes of sampling, the paper changes
colour to indicate the presence of E. coli, with colours coded to
represent different forms and concentrations of the bacteria.
In the future, the test should make it possible for consumers to check
their water affordably and easily, without additional equipment,
scientific knowledge or long waits.
“One of the problems right now is that there is no simple, fast and
cheap way to test recreational water, and certainly nothing out there
in the realm of rapid tests for drinking water,” Brennan says.
Field testing of the prototype strips is planned or under way in Canada
and across the globe, in regions where untreated water poses particular
health hazards. The results of these studies will help to refine the
test strips and may lead to strips that are sensitive enough to tell
whether water is safe enough to drink, says Brennan.
The standards for safe drinking water are hundreds of times tighter than
those for safe swimming water. Typically, limits for safe swimming
allow for a maximum of 100 to 500 cells in 100 mL of water, depending
on jurisdiction. For water to be considered safe for drinking, there
cannot be even one cell in 100 mL – a little less than half a cup of
The next stage of pre-commercial development of the test strips is
already funded by NSERC through a Phase I Idea to Innovation grant.
Commercialization of a final product could take as little as two to
Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network www.sentinelbioactivepaper.ca brings together 28 academic researchers and more than 50 graduate
students and post-doctoral fellows from 11 universities, with industry
and government partners. Sentinel is operating with $7.5-million in
funding over five years (2010-2015) from NSERC and another $2.5-million
and over $2-million (in-kind) from industry partners: SC Johnson,
FPInnovations, Stora Enso, Fujifilm Dimatix and Graphic Controls and
government partners: NSERC, Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) -
Centre for Materials and Manufacturing and the National Research
Council (NRC) – Institute for Biological Sciences. McMaster University
in Hamilton, Ontario leads the Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network and
hosts its administrative centre.
Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry journal article: http://bit.ly/IhS3jX
Video with John Brennan explaining the research: http://bit.ly/IEZQq7
SOURCE TKX Inc.
Image with caption: “(Photo by JD Howell, McMaster University) Sentinel Bioactive Paper Network researchers at McMaster University have developed a simple paper strip that can detect E. coli in recreational water within minutes. The strips are coated with chemicals that react to the bacteria and change colour to indicate its presence. (CNW Group/TKX Inc.)”. Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20120430_C2495_PHOTO_EN_12908.jpg