EBPI Research and Development Projects

EBPI Newsletter brief for UBC Decolonizing Water Project (March 2018)

EBPI is pleased to provide an update to the members and partners of the Decolonizing Water Governance grant team on the latest research and development projects at the company, as well as some insight into how these new initiatives might tie into our working efforts. EBPI is constantly striving to make our test systems more accessible by simplifying how data is collected and providing better interpretation for the results. Our primary research efforts aim to expand our client base, while at the same time erasing current limitations of laboratory equipment and training through innovations in method design, and new technologies. We feel like our general research direction relates to the grant by always keeping the end user in mind, and any method improvements or decreased costs should facilitate adoption of our technologies within First Nations communities if they want to use them. More specifically, three of our research projects focus directly on our partnership with the Decolonizing Water Governance project and have been undertaken with isolated applications in First Nations communities as the target.

1) Portable, single use toxicity test with Aliivibrio fischeri.

The luminescent bacteria test employs a species of marine bacteria that produces bioluminescence naturally. When these bacteria encounter toxins, light production is altered and the degree of change is a very well characterized measure of toxicity in a sample used universally in the mining, oil and gas, waste water and chemical industries. So far, this test has not been adapted for field use due to machine constraints (most luminometers are very large) and storage requirements of the test organisms. We have been working diligently with our partners at Aboatox in Finland to develop a test method that uses a single use swab device and a hand-held luminometer to permit rapid field measurements of toxicity in water samples and solid surfaces. This test method is not available anywhere else in the world, and a novel preservation technique provides extra stability to the bacteria by simplifying the necessary storage conditions. We see significant utility of this system in remote locations, or for use by land managers who come across spills and want to measure potential toxicity directly. We hope to gather further information on the durability and performance through field trials with interested communities.

2) Cell phone software improvements for result interpretation.

Most of our test methods depend on colour changes to provide results. While this design permits visual analysis without any supplemental equipment, to get accurate measurements about the degree of response, which is crucial for establishing toxic potency, a spectrophotometer is required. This instrument is expensive to purchase, complicated to use, and not easily deployed in remote locations. For these reasons, we have been researching alternative ways to get spectrophotometric results without the detector. Current initiatives to use cell phones and imaging processing algorithms for this purpose have yielded encouraging early results. By employing the camera and computation power of a smart phone device and working with the latest image and colour processing software technologies, we are developing an application that will prompt the user to take a picture of the microplate used in the test, and will interpret the degree of colour change compared to a standard sample to produce on-site quantitative results. We hope to exploit the widespread availability of smart phones to improve our assays, dramatically lower the cost of testing, and encourage the use of genotoxicity assays in remote locations.

3) Deployment of the C.L.A.M. in situ water concentration device for Environmental Monitoring

A third research project with our partners at Aqualitical is investigating the use of their in-situ water filtration and concentration device to improve sample collection and result acquisition. The C. L. A. M. (Continuous Low-level Analytical Measurement) device is a small submersible extraction sampler, using EPA approved methodology 3535 and a SPE (Solid Phase Extraction) media disks to provide a time integrative, large volume extraction of potential contaminants. The water is left behind and the pre-extracted disk is submitted to a laboratory for testing. The system saves costs on shipping heavy water and can dramatically lower detection limits by extracting up to 100 L of water. Additionally, holding time issues do not apply as the disk is a solid, and can be frozen for up to a year. EBPI sees a very important application in remote northern communities for this technology, which can be easily paired with its Bioassays to improve responses, and also used for better and more cost effective sample collection during currently employed analytical assessments.

4) Aptasensor Development for Priority Contaminants

Aptamers are short single-stranded oligonucleotides (pieces of DNA/RNA) that possess high binding affinities for specific molecular targets. Aptamer molecules utilize the many possible tertiary configurations of nucleic acids to fold around and interact with a specific target. We have devised a fluorescent reporter system to pair with aptamers and provide real-time detection of molecular targets by monitoring changes in fluorescence. Coupled with a portable fluorimeter that EBPI has built, we have come up with a platform that can provide low level detection of small molecules in environmental samples. We are very excited about the potential applications of the technology, as it can be used for any molecule of interest by simply changing the DNA sequence. We have demonstrated proof of concept using proteins, fungal toxins and heavy metals, and are trying to use it to detect toxins from algal blooms. Although the completion of this project is not imminent, there is significant potential to provide users with low cost detection of priority pollutants on-site, in real time. We are interested in finding new targets of interest for First Nations communities where our system might be employed.

These projects will be ongoing in the upcoming year to improve our product performance for general clients, while at the same time optimizing tools that can potentially be used by interested First Nations communities. The goal remains to enable environmental monitoring independently and cost-effectively. Our hope is to gather feedback from the grant team on ways to support the grant initiatives, and better serve the communities who might benefit from these technologies. We are looking forward to continuing our strong relationship with the grant and conducting research and development for applications within Canada. For more information on EBPI and our research projects visit www.biotoxicity.com or contact Dr. Aaron Witham directly at awitham@biotoxicity.com.