Human-like nose can sniff out contamination in drinking water

Sep 15, 2015

By Elsevier

A bioelectronic nose that mimics the human nose can detect traces of bacteria in water by smelling it, without the need for complex equipment and testing. According to a study published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics the technology works by using the smell receptors in the human nose.

The sensor is simple to use and it can detect tiny amounts of contamination in water, making it more sensitive than existing detection methods. The authors of the study, from Seoul National University, say this could make the technology even more useful in the field.

There are two main problems caused by bacteria and other microbes in water: they can make the water toxic, and make it smell bad. At high concentrations, bacteria can be toxic in drinking water. But at lower levels — virtually undetectable by current culturing techniques — they can cause an “off flavor,” putting people off from drinking it.

The new study shows how technology that mimics the human nose can sniff out low levels of bacteria and other microbes by detecting the off flavor they give off.

“Water that smells bad isn’t necessarily toxic,” said Professor Tai Hyun Park, who has been leading the study. “Imagine you don’t do your laundry; it’s not that toxic but you don’t want to wear it because the smell is bad. With drinking water, if there’s off flavor, even if the water isn’t toxic, you don’t want to drink it. We wanted to develop a way to detect and remove this kind of contamination, so people are happy to drink water.”


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3 comments on “Human-like nose can sniff out contamination in drinking water

  • With drinking water, if there’s off flavor, even if the water isn’t toxic, you don’t want to drink it. We wanted to develop a way to detect and remove this kind of contamination, so people are happy to drink water.”

    I’m certain that the bioelectronic nose poses no threat to sales in the bottled water industry. For decades wasteful consumers have avoided pure odorless tap water in favor of designer bottled water. Conditioned by advertising coupled with mass hysteria to accept elixir-of-life claims of health benefits derived from drinking bottled water from magical sources such as the Alpine spring shown gushing on the label, humans have built mountains of plastic bottles full of sound and fury signifying…H20.



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  • My dear Melvin,

    I don’t want to belabor the point (which is hardly even possible) but can you now at least appreciate my annoyance at such notions or expressions as “technology sniffing out the rose”? In this case, the word “sniffing” is being used metaphorically; but there is, I suspect, a tendency among science writers and people in general, to conflate things. This all goes back to the ministerial Wittgenstein, to a large extent. He was the master at conflating things.

    But according to your definition (or perhaps Alan’s) a sound is a vibration and a colors are not perceptions are not seen; they are wavelength or rods and cones in our eyes.

    I am not doubting that those things exist, but I for one have never seen a wavelength with the naked eye. This is not how we actually operate. No scientist talking about the wavelength or rods and cones in our eyes can help us with this particular problem.

    Dan



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  • Dan
    Sep 20, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    I don’t want to belabor the point (which is hardly even possible) but can you now at least appreciate my annoyance at such notions or expressions as “technology sniffing out the rose”?

    We keep hoping you can make the connection! The term sniffing in this context, means taking in the sample of air and detecting (as our noses do biologically), the aromatic organic trace molecules present in that air.

    But according to your definition (or perhaps Alan’s) a sound is a vibration

    Sound is vibrations, detected in humans by the mechanical features of the ear converting the wavelength (pitch) and amplitude into electrical signals to the brain, for neurological identification, interpretation, and analysis.
    In a vacuum where there are no molecules to vibrate, sound does not exist.

    and a colors are not perceptions are not seen; they are wavelength or rods and cones in our eyes.

    I am not doubting that those things exist, but I for one have never seen a wavelength with the naked eye.

    Actually you ONLY see selected wavelengths with human eyes, even if you don’t recognise them as such. Insect eyes can see different wavelengths.

    This is not how we actually operate.

    That is precisely how we operate! Rods and cones are sensitive in detecting certain wavelengths. They convert detected waves to signals passed along the optic nerve to the brain, which then catalogues the pattern of “colours”. Colours are the names representing those detected wavelengths in our thinking.

    No scientist talking about the wavelength or rods and cones in our eyes can help us with this particular problem.

    What additional problem? – The interpretation of images is a separate study in science, mathematics, or art. – all of which can be the subject of analysis. For wavelengths outside the human range of detection, technology is required to convert images (such as Xrays) to images in “colours” humans can recognise and interpret.



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