Michigan Company Develops Handheld Device to Limit Algae Blooms

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A new, handheld device has been developed by a Michigan-based company that analyzes nitrate and phosphate levels in water, soil, plants, and forage that can contribute to harmful algal blooms and cause unmanageable levels of nitrate at drinking water processing plants.

The device, developed by NECi Superior Enzymes, a biotechnology company based in Lake Linden in the Upper Peninsula, interfaces via Bluetooth to a smartphone and can detect elevated nitrate levels that pose health concerns, especially for infants who are susceptible to blue-baby syndrome.

“We developed an accurate, reliable test method that works in laboratory settings,” says Ellen R. Campbell, CEO of NECi Superior Enzymes. “Then we simplified the method so that anyone can do it. We believe users should have confidence that their results actually mean something,"

Campbell says nitrate and phosphate are necessary for plant and soil health, and are widely used in fertilizers. However, when excess nutrients from agricultural fields migrate into the water system, it contributes to algae blooms that can cause unmanageable levels of nitrate at drinking water processing plants.

Removing nitrate from drinking water is a costly process, and management practices are essential to solving and preventing blooms by targeting proper nitrate and phosphate levels in the soil from the start, and routinely monitoring them.

Campbell says the device works by measuring the light that is passed through a given sample, following a simple enzymatic reaction. Enzymes are abundant in nature to perform essential biological tasks. The enzyme used in the test kits, Nitrate Reductase, is the enzyme in plants that initiates the conversion of nitrate into proteins and DNA.

The handheld instrument was developed, in part, with funding from the National Science Foundation's Small Business Innovation Research program. 

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