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Color-coded bacteria can spot leaky pipes, storage tanks


September 15, 2008
By Marg Land

September 12, 2008 – Low level
leaks from underground pipes and storage tanks could be quickly and
easily spotted in the future using color coded bacteria, scientists
heard at a recent meeting of the Society for General Microbiology held
at Trinity College, Dublin.

September 12, 2008 – Low level leaks from underground pipes and storage tanks could be quickly and easily spotted in the future using color coded bacteria, scientists heard at a recent meeting of the Society for General Microbiology held at Trinity College, Dublin.

“Because bacteria have simple single-celled bodies, it is relatively easy to equip them with a sensor and a brightly colored ‘reporter protein’ that shows up under a microscope, alerting us to different substances leaking into the soil,” says Professor Jan Van der Meer from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

Scientists have successfully shown that living bacteria can be used as an environmentally friendly way of detecting leaks than chemical methods currently in use.

“Chemical methods are often cumbersome, require sophisticated equipment, costly reagents or nasty materials,” says Professor Van der Meer. “In comparison, our sensing bacteria are very simple to maintain. Tests with the bacteria are therefore extremely easy to carry out and do not require noxious chemicals.”

“Our own tests, and checks by other laboratories, have shown that testing using bacteria is a remarkably robust technique and produces reliable results,” says Professor Van der Meer. “The heart of our color sensor system is the bacteria themselves. They reproduce themselves in a growth medium, which makes the whole set-up really cheap.”


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