In the US, it is estimated that there are 19.5 million waterborne illnesses per year caused by ingestion of contaminated drinking water. Swimming in pathogen-contaminated waters is believed to cause 120 million illnesses worldwide. In developing countries, waterborne diseases remain one of the most widespread health risks for children with more than 2 million children under 5 years old dying each year. These illnesses and deaths are caused by exposure to waters contaminated with pathogens; the source of this environmental contamination is usually animal (including human) feces.

There are several techniques currently available for the identification of bacterial pathogens and their indicators, but they are either slow, non-specific, or technically challenging.

This project will develop a rapid and low-cost detection method involving isolation, digitization and concentration of organisms, combined with a novel probe that lights up in the presence of water-borne pathogens and their indicators.

The technology could revolutionize the way water is tested by putting the tools in the hands of citizens. The resulting wealth of citizen-collected data could lead to improved public health policies.