Projects

  • Project 1. Integrated low-cost, real-time monitoring of Ontario recreational and municipal water sources

 

 
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New Technologies

A key objective of our program is to provide an environment that will foster interactions between biologists, engineers and computer scientist that will allow key problems in water diagnostic research to be addressed. We expect that all trainees supoorted under this project to work with our industrial partners, government agencies and endusers to acheive this strategic goal.

New technologies, particularly in engineering and bioinformatics, will facilitate the design and manufacture of relatively inexpensive, re-configurable diagnostic devices that will provide robust information needed to make critical water quality evalations.

There are many imminent challenges maintaining high water quality in the heavily-populated Southern Ontario region. Increasing population, increasing agricultural intensity and high potential for contamination of water sources contribute to the growing urgency in using robust technology to provide integrated real-time management of analysis data to provide decision-makers with the tools to ensure continued water safety. Water quality is dependent on chemical, microbial and physical factors that are often assayed periodically and in isolation with little real-time integration of information. However, these factors are known to be interdependent and, ideally, should be assessed together. Existing technology, based on manual and periodic sampling, is laboratory-based, labour-intensive, lacks integration and standardization, and is expensive.  Development of sensing systems that can be deployed in a large number of locations to continuously sense chemical, microbial and physical characteristics of water and transmit this information through wireless networks will alert public health officials of contamination that requires remedial action. Recent advancements in bioinformatics, nanotechnology and information fusion now make low-cost, real-time monitoring possible.

In this project, we will focus on three main areas. The first is to acquire unique DNA and RNA biomarker signatures for specific pathogenic microorganisms using bioinformatic analysis of both public databases as well as data obtained from site specific samples. Unique biomarkers will be developed for each pathogen that will be used in the development of biological sensors. The second is to develop micro and nanoscale sensing systems for chemical, biological and elemental species that process water samples, extract and transmit the information to central wireless servers. In this proposal, biologists will collaborate with engineers to develop detection tools that are inexpensive, specific, easy to use and broadly applicable to many pathogens. We will test and validate these tools with E. coli and related bacteria to demonstrate utility. The third component is to develop algorithms that integrate the disparate information for end users. In parallel, we will demonstrate and deploy these technologies at test sites in close collaboration with regional and local municipalities in Southern Ontario to facilitate adoption of these emerging water monitoring systems. More specifically, we will conduct leading edge research and technology development of scalable, integrated lab-on-chip technologies that are automated, low-cost and real-time, by synergistically combining expertise and practical know-how in engineering, physical and life sciences and environmental sciences. Our work will include research and technology development of microfabricated modules for sample preparation, electrical and optical sensing of biological, chemical and nanomaterial contaminants plus integrated wireless communicated systems that are particularly relevant for remote monitoring and for widespread deployment. Analogous to the use of microfabrication which enabled lowering of cost, exponential increase in complexity of electronic chips and widespread availability of computing resources, this will enable widespread availability of environmental monitoring systems in urban and rural areas.

Our key commercial partner, Norgen Biotek Corporation, is Canada’s premiere manufacturer of diagnostic kits and molecule purification technology.  This importnat partner will play a key role in supplying technical expertise as well as evaluating the commercial potential of sensor developed in this proposal.

For inquiries: please email schell@mcmaster.ca (Herb Schellhorn) for Biology-related inquiries or jamal@mail.ece.mcmaster.ca (Jamal Deen) for engineering/computer related inquiries.

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