Real-Time Toxicity Detection in Drinking Water


S. Gallager
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Real-time detection of toxins in drinking water samples has the advantage of halting distribution before water is consumed.  Current techniques have delays of minutes to hours or longer.  Real-time detection and warning systems can save lives.


The invention is a system for real-time detection of toxins in water samples.  It includes a plurality of chambers for culturing organisms and observing the organisms’ motility response when introduced into a sample containing a toxin. The toxicity measurement system includes an imaging module to monitor and track the movement of the organisms in the sample and identify abnormalities.  Automated detection of the presence of toxins in the sample is based on the observed motility response of organisms.


  • Municipal water supply quality monitoring
  • Military use as test of potable water sources
  • Homeland security surveillance of water system integrity

Key Benefits

  • Real-time detection of toxins in water at EPA designated concentration levels
  • Classification of toxin class possible
  • Automated, self-contained system can operate unattended for months at a time

Stage of Development

The technology has been exclusively licensed to Petrel Biosensors, Inc.  Petrel Biosensors, Inc. is partially owned by WHOI.

Patent Number

US Patent 20080286822A1

Relevant Industry

Analytical Instrumentation – Spectroscopy
Homeland Security
Municipal Water Districts