Novel Testing Device Will Reveal whether Water Contains Toxic Blue-green Algae


The University of Turku and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are developing an affordable, fast and easy to use measuring device which reveals the toxic blue-green algae, i.e. cyanobacteria, in the water.

​As the summer approaches and the lake and sea waters warm up, the observation of the swimming waters begins. National algal bloom monitoring published by the Finnish Environment Institute gives a general picture of the state of the waters and Järviwiki, a Finnish lake wiki, follows the occurrence of blue-green algae in the individual waterways.

However, this is the closest information people can get about the quality of the water.

– Many are interested in whether the water at the beach of the summer cottage or a public beach is swimmable or does it contain toxic cyanobacteria. Also the authorities are interested in more specific information so that the swimmers’ safety can be ensured, says researcher Markus Vehniäinen from the Department of Biochemistry of the University of Turku.

The joint project of the University of Turku and VTT is trying to meet the consumers’ need to know about the state of the waterways by developing an affordable, fast and easy to use solution.

The device that is being developed measures the amounts of microcystin and nodularin, which are the most common cyanobacteria toxins, from a water sample.

– Toxins are present in every second blue-green algae bloom and you cannot detect by visual inspection alone if the cyanobacteria in the water is toxic or not. Even after the blue-green algae disappear, the water might contain toxins for a while. With the device, you can quickly check that the water is safe to use, says Vehniäinen.

Innovations Meet in the Device the Size of a Thermometer

Researchers at the University of Turku have developed reagents that are suitable for measurement in the earlier CyanoTox and NucleoTracker projects funded by Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation. These reagent innovations are now combined with the measuring device developed by VTT’s Waterchip project.

The device is the size of a thermometer and a water sample is conveyed inside it where the reagents react to toxic bacteria. The test reveals in a couple of minutes if the water contains toxic cyanobacteria.

– We can develop the accuracy of the device by combining the expertise of VTT and the University of Turku. At the same time we are preparing for the commercialisation of the device, says Senior Scientist Liisa Hakola from VTT.

The cyanobacteria toxins project has received Tekes funding for 2014–2015.

Text: Tuomas Koivula
Photo: Stefe
Translation: Mari Ratia

Created 25.06.2014 | Updated 25.06.2014