Sensing pharmaceutical contaminants in fresh water

Two people working in a lab

Fresh water pollution affects about 1.2 billion people worldwide. Researchers in Turkey and the UK have been working together to develop an easy to use, portable sensor to detect pollutants and remove them from the water source.

Turkey has a large agricultural sector and the pollution problem in water and soil due to pharmaceuticals including antibiotics and other drugs is a critical issue. The innovation uses a highly sensitive but inexpensive sensor strip that can rapidly detect these pharmaceuticals and provide real time analysis.

The team used a specially designed magnetic polymer to remove the identified pollutants from the wastewater systems and the developed sensor is ready to use to detect these pollutants. Sewage surveillance can also serve as an early warning of viral outbreak and re-emergence in towns and cities.

This low-cost sensor will also be useful in monitoring of water pollutants in other countries where water sanitisation is an issue and people suffer more severely from bacterial infections, further reducing the worldwide impact of water pollution.

The misuse of antibiotics by cattle and poultry farmers to improve productivity and profit causes antibiotics to end up in the soil through animal waste, which then leaks into rivers and streams. The team is part of a new international partnership between the UK, Turkey, Bangladesh and Brazil, tackling this global reliance on antibiotics for securing food production.

Together with Professor Roy Vellaisamy, University of Glasgow, the UK team is also applying their research to detect COVID-19 in wastewater so they can monitor the circulation of the coronavirus within communities and alert policymakers in good time.

We believe that the developed system can be easily adapted to sewage surveillance to monitor viral outbreaks such as COVID-19.

Professor Ahment Mete Saatci, Head of Turkish Water Institute, Turkey

A SPR sensor system using molecular imprinted polymer-nanoparticle composites for ultrasensitive detection of pharmaceutical emerging contaminants in fresh water sources

Project leads: Professor Humphrey H Yiu, Heriot-Watt University, UK and Professor Memed Duman, Hacettepe University, Turkey

Delivery partners: Royal Society, UK and the Scientific and Technological Research Council, Turkey

SDG goals icons - Clean water and sanitation