JAN 28, 2020 12:45 PM PST

Portable device analyzes microbes in the environment

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

Aquatic microbes often serve as challenge to study, after all, they are too tiny to detect. But, what if there was a device that can swiftly analyze aquatic microbes and reveal their health. Fortunately, the “what-if” could be true—according to a tool developed by researchers at Rutgers University.

This portable tool can rapidly reveal whether a cell is stressed, robust or unaffected by environmental conditions. Image: Jianye Sui via Rutgers.edu

“Our goal was to develop a novel way of assessing cell health that did not rely on using expensive and complex genomic tools,” said co-senior author Debashish Bhattacharya, a distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. “Being able to assess and understand the status of cells, without having to send samples back to the lab, can allow the identification of threatened ecosystems based on a ‘stress index’ for their inhabitants.”

The device is portable and can screen for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and analyze algae that survive in coral reefs. The tool was in-fact initially developed to asses alga but can do much more than that including detecting environmental stresses from pollution to changes in temperature.

Findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

“This is very important for environmental biology, given the effects of climate change and other stressors on the health of microorganisms, such as algae that form harmful blooms, in the ecosystem,” said senior author Mehdi Javanmard, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

The study focused on a well-known microalga, Picochlorum. In the study, the device was able to reveal if the Picochlorum underwent any stresses by demonstrating something known as ‘impedance’—the amount of an electrical field. Scientists were able to show that impedance measurements can have applications on entire population levels and not just a single cell.

Learn more about Picochlorum:

Source: Science Daily

About the Author
  • Nouran earned her BS and MS in Biology at IUPUI and currently shares her love of science by teaching. She enjoys writing on various topics as well including science & medicine, global health, and conservation biology. She hopes through her writing she can make science more engaging and communicable to the general public.
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