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Now, water-testing lab packed into a pill

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Washington | April 29, 2014 12:01:13 AM IST
Researchers have solved the problem of cumbersome, expensive and painfully slow water-testing by turning the process upside-down.

Instead of shipping water to the lab, they have created a way to take the lab to the water, putting potentially life-saving technology into the hands of everyday people.

The team has reduced the sophisticated chemistry required for testing water safety to a simple pill, by adapting technology found in a dissolving breath strip. Want to know if a well is contaminated? Drop a pill in a vial of water and shake vigorously. If the colour changes then it is contaminated.

The idea occurred to team member Sana Jahanshahi-Anbuhi, a PhD student in Chemical Engineering who came across the breath strips while shopping and realized the same material used in the dissolving strips could have broader applications.

The researchers have now created a way to store precisely measured amounts of enzymes and other active agents in pills made from the same naturally occurring substance used in breath strips, putting lab-quality science within instant and easy reach of people who need quick answers to questions such as whether their water is safe.

The material, called pullulan, forms a solid when dry, and protects sensitive agents from oxygen and temperature changes that can render them useless within hours.

The new method allows the same materials to be stored virtually anywhere for months inside tiny pills that dissolve readily in liquid. The pills are inexpensive to produce and anyone can add them to well water, for an instant reading of pesticides, e. coli or metals, for example.

The new method has been described in an article published online in the journal Angewandte Chemie. (ANI)

 
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