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Tests show new biosensor can guide environmental clean-ups
Date:5/5/2011

Tests of a new antibody-based "biosensor" developed by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science show that it can detect marine pollutants like oil much faster and more cheaply than current technologies. The device is small and sturdy enough to be used from a boat.

Testing of the biosensor in the Elizabeth River and Yorktown Creek, which both drain into lower Chesapeake Bay, shows that the instrument can process samples in less than 10 minutes, detect pollutants at levels as low as just a few parts per billion, and do so at a cost of just pennies per sample. Current technology requires hours of lab work, with a per-sample cost of up to $1,000.

"Our biosensor combines the power of the immune system with the sensitivity of cutting-edge electronics," says Dr. Mike Unger of VIMS. "It holds great promise for real-time detection and monitoring of oil spills and other releases of contaminants into the marine environment."

The biosensor was developed and tested by Unger, fellow VIMS professor Steve Kaattari, and their doctoral student Candace Spier, with assistance from marine scientist George Vadas. The team's report of field tests with the sensor appears in this month's issue of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The instrument was developed in conjunction with Sapidyne Instruments, Inc., with funding from the state of Virginia, the Office of Naval Research, and the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology, a partnership between NOAA and the University of New Hampshire.

The tests in the Elizabeth River took place during clean up of a site contaminated by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), byproducts of decades of industrial use of creosote to treat marine pilings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers PAHs highly toxic and lists 17 as suspected carcinogens.

The biosensor allowed the researchers to quantify PAH concentrations while the Eli
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Contact: Dr. Mike Unger
munger@vims.edu
804-684-7187
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
Source:Eurekalert

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