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Automatic Detection of Cholera Pathogens in Water

More than 140,000 people die every year from Vibrio cholerae, the pathogen that causes cholera. It is estimated that up to four million people worldwide fall ill with cholera each year. It often occurs as an epidemic. The cause is frequently water resources contaminated by this and other pathogenic bacteria. Current methods for detection are difficult, lengthy, and expensive. In a project titled “Port Path. A Portable Device for Detecting Pathogens”, a working group at the TU Berlin Zentrum for Astronomie and Astrophysik, headed by Professor Dr. Dirk Schulze-Makuch, is investigating a wholly innovative approach for the automatic detection of pathogenic agents, particularly cholera pathogens. In order to test the marketability of his idea, Schulze-Makuch has now received a "Proof of Concept Grant" from the European Research Council.

Laypersons to use “PortPath” detection tool too

"The current detection methods for this pathogen impose very high demands on both the equipment and expertise of the investigating person or institution. A reliable positive detection takes many hours and is very expensive,” explains Dirk Schulze-Makuch, who is also head of the TU Berlin Chair of Astrobiology with a focus on Planetary Habitability at the Zentrum für Astronomie und Astrophysik. The “PortPath” automatic detection tool can be operated by laypersons and non-medical professionals. “This allows it to also be used in poorer countries affected by water contamination,” says Schulze-Makuch.

The new PortPath approach employs user-friendly software and affordable hardware to quickly and inexpensively analyze whether pathogenic agents are present in a water sample. The hardware contains the most recent developments in computer technology while the software adopts strategies from machine learning. 

ERC funding enables production of a prototype

With the ERC funding, which supports projects testing their practical feasibility and the resilience of their business models, Schulze-Makuch and his team now want to confirm the concrete technical feasibility and build the first prototype as well as create a business plan for commercial use.

Professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch © Felix Noak