Biochemists are able to recognize poisons in the environment right on the spot

Portable device made by experts from Masaryk University will be on market within three years.

The device can detect the presence of so-called halogenated substances that are part of industrial solvents or pesticides used in agriculture.

Experts at the Faculty of Science have developed a simple device, called the biosensor, that can recognize the concentration of certain toxins quickly and at a low cost.

The scientists are cooperating with industrial partners on this project, thanks to which the first devices will already be on market within three years. "No portable device for continuous measurement directly on site is currently available on the market, so there is great scope for its application both in the Czech Republic and throughout the world. Potential buyers from different countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom and South Korea, have already shown interest in our product, " says Veronika Štěpánková from Loschmidt Laboratories.

The device can detect the presence of so-called halogenated substances that are part of industrial solvents or pesticides used in agriculture. "These substances persist in the environment for a long time and have strong toxic, carcinogenic or teratogenic effects, which means they can cause birth defects during prenatal development. Therefore, it is necessary to monitor their presence in ground water as well as surface water," points out Štěpánková.

Biosensors function on an optical principle: they use a reaction during which enzymes help to cleave a halogenide off the pollutant and release a proton, which changes the fluorescence of the pH indicator. This change of fluorescence then makes it possible to establish the intensity of pollution.

"We have been working on an optical biosensor prototype since 2007, but only our cooperation with the company Photon System Instruments made it possible to transform this prototype into a potentially marketable device," says Štěpánková. She adds that experts from the MU laboratories continue to develop new types of enzymes, called dehalogenases, which should make it possible to broaden the spectrum of substances that biosensors detect.

Thanks to successful cooperation with the companies Photon System Instruments and Enantis, all participants recently won second place in the project Best Cooperation of the Year organized by the American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic and the Association for Foreign Investment together with the Technology Agency of the Czech Republic. The cooperation between the laboratory and the commercial sector has been supported by the Technology Transfer Office MU on a long-term basis.