Imagine being able to test water for the tiniest levels of waste contamination, even at home. A team of researchers at Texas A&M University, led by Vladislav Yakovlev, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, has developed a method to detect a previously undetectable level of contamination in water associated with human and animal fecal matter. The technology detects “urobilin,” a byproduct excreted in the urine and feces of many mammals at levels that are thousandths and even millionths of times smaller than those found by conventional methods. Urobilin can be made to glow when mixed with zinc ions, forming a phosphorescent compound. A water sample is placed inside a cylinder and a laser light is beamed inside through a small hole causing any urobilin present in the sample to glow.
Yakovlev said the technology has exciting potential uses, including analysis of drinking water supplies, particularly in developing nations and following natural disasters. He even foresees an at-home testing method in which a store-bought LED light can be used to detect contamination.