Detecting harmful molecules in the environment

July 4, 2014

(Phys.org) —Victoria University of Wellington researchers have developed a new technique that can detect environmental levels of oestrogen at the equivalent of detecting one pinch of salt in an olympic-sized swimming pool.

Work by Professor Ken McNatty from the School of Biological Sciences, Dr Justin Hodgkiss from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, and PhD students Shalen Kumar and Omar Alsager, has resulted in a tool that will add to knowledge about the presence of oestrogenic hormones in the environment—molecules with the potential to affect human and animal reproductive cycles.

"When is in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be harmful to living organisms including humans," says Dr Hodgkiss.

"It is crucial to be aware if there's oestrogen in the environment, especially as it is not uncommon for water in many countries, including New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, to be recycled. We have no idea how much oestrogenic material is in there."

Another concern, says Professor McNatty, is that the additives that increase plasticity in everyday items such as drink bottles, containers and rubbish bags, can accumulate over time and behave like oestrogen. But, he says, to measure these items repetitively and quickly is very expensive. "The question is, what is safe if you're exposed to these additives for 30 years?"

Currently, the only way to measure the amount of oestrogen in water is to send a sample to a lab for analysis, which is expensive and takes time to get results says Professor McNatty. "With our new sensors, anyone in the field, such as a regional council officer or water board inspector, could add a sample to the test vial and if oestrogen is present, the sensor will change colour giving a yes or no answer in just a few minutes."

Results from the first part of the research, focused on detecting oestrogen and supported by Viclink, Victoria's commercialisation office, have been published in the international journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.

The researchers will focus next on refining the sensitivity of the sensors to provide information on exactly how much oestrogen is present, and to expand the sensors to target other molecules

"There are a wide range of applications for this versatile technology. Our research will provide an invaluable tool for further research into oestrogen, and other harmful molecules, in the environment," says Dr Hodgkiss.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Findings illuminate animal evolution in protein function

July 27, 2015

Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Richmond researchers recently teamed up to explore the inner workings of cells and shed light on the 400–600 million years of evolution between humans and early animals ...

New polymer able to store energy at higher temperatures

July 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University has created a new polymer that is able to store energy at higher temperatures than conventional polymers without breaking down. In their paper published ...

How to look for a few good catalysts

July 30, 2015

Two key physical phenomena take place at the surfaces of materials: catalysis and wetting. A catalyst enhances the rate of chemical reactions; wetting refers to how liquids spread across a surface.

Yarn from slaughterhouse waste

July 29, 2015

ETH researchers have developed a yarn from ordinary gelatine that has good qualities similar to those of merino wool fibers. Now they are working on making the yarn even more water resistant.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.