Simple and fast detection of pathogens in recreational waters

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Project Period: 
Project Investigator(s): 
R. Cademartiri, Department of Chemical & Biological Engineering, Iowa State University
M. Soupir, Department of Agricultural & Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University

Harmful microorganisms are the leading cause of water quality impairments in the United States, and are thought to be responsible for 900,000 illnesses and 900 deaths per year. Quick and accurate detection techniques are badly needed to better identify waters posing a risk to human health. The objective of this study is to generate preliminary data in three important areas for the development of a paper-based test for the detection of pathogens in recreational waters: 1) the stability of bacteriophages on paper, 2) the pre-concentration of bacteria in water samples, and 3) the development of a sensitive colorimetric assay for bacteria on paper. The development of a paper-based device for detection of water-borne pathogens will provide information on the presence of pathogens in recreational waters at low-cost in a short period of time and can be used by volunteer groups, beach managers, and other public health officials.

Project Results: 

This project explored a novel method for quick detection of fecal indicator bacteria, E. coli, on paper without the use of incubation.  This technology would be useful for quick detection of indicators in water quality, to determine if waters are safe for recreation.  While successful, the researchers were not able to get the detection limit of the methods to the level necessary for compliance with water quality standards.  E. coli could be detected on paper, but at concentrations that exceeded Iowa water quality standards.


Hice SA, Santoscoy MC, Soupir ML, Cademartiri R. Distinguishing between metabolically active and dormant bacteria on paper. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2017.