Bacterial Buddies

The solution to dirty drinking water might be… BACTERIA!?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Clean drinking water is a necessity, but contamination from toxic metals is a growing concern. Even tiny amounts can be extremely hazardous, so early detection is vital. How can we be sure that our water is safe?? 

Hong Wei and team at the University of California Irvine found a microscopic solution.

E.coli! Don’t puke, just listen. E. coli is highly sensitive to toxic metals and emits unique chemical signals in response. Researchers were able to detect these signals with tiny cameras. Then they trained a computer program to match each signal to a particular toxic metal. 

This method differentiated TWO toxic metals – arsenic and chromium – with NINETY-NINE percent accuracy! AND they detected them at levels ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND times lower than recommended limits! 

This could give us an early warning when our water becomes contaminated. 

Who knew? E. coli has got our BAC……TERIA!!!  

**There was an error when this script was recorded. The responsible institution is the University of California, Irvine, not the University of Illinois.**


Wei, H., Huang, Y., Santiago, P. J., Labachyan, K. E., Ronaghi, S., Banda Magana, M. P., Huang, Y. H., C Jiang, S., Hochbaum, A. I., & Ragan, R. (2023). Decoding the metabolic response of Escherichia coli for sensing trace heavy metals in water. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 120(7), e2210061120.