New rapid water test reduces gastro outbreaks

La Trobe University researchers have developed a 30-minute water test to identify sewage in recreational and environmental waterways, reducing outbreaks of gastroenteritis and other illnesses in Australia and around the world. 

La Trobe University researchers have developed a 30-minute water test to identify sewage in recreational and environmental waterways, reducing outbreaks of gastroenteritis and other illnesses in Australia and worldwide. 

Published in Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology, the research shows the Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test – a rapid DNA amplification technique – can be implemented onsite using a portable diagnostic machine, making identification faster and more cost-effective than current methods. 

La Trobe University PhD candidate Meysam Khodaparast was the study lead. He said rapid, and cost-efficient identification is critical when recreational water is contaminated with human faecal matter. 

“Current tests require cold chain transportation to get the sample from the site to the lab. That can take several days. It prevents rapid action by water authorities and timely public health decisions.” 

“The LAMP test is as simple as rapid antigen test for water – it’s fast and doesn’t require scientific expertise to achieve an accurate result,” Mr Khodaparast said. 

Co-author of the study, Dr Dave Sharley, director at Bio2Lab, said that the relatively low cost of the new tests would allow water authorities to increase their surveillance during sewer spills. 

“This is likely to reduce costs associated with sewer spill clean-ups. Now, the tests only need to operate for as long as necessary. This is instead of waiting additional days for test results to come back from a lab”, Dr Sharley said. 

Research findings important for every country

In Australia, contamination of environmental waterways with human faecal matter is frequent. 

The sewer network is separated from the stormwater network. However, during storm events, it is widespread for stormwater to enter sewer pipes due to broken pipes or illegal connections. 

Sewerage systems can then reach capacity releasing sewage back through private plumbing connections (toilets) or spilling into rivers and creeks. 

This can lead to millions of litres of sewerage ending up in the city’s waterways. These spills can kill aquatic wildlife and substantially increase human health risks. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the consumption of faecal-contaminated water causes 485,000 diarrhoeal deaths globally each year (Drinking-water fact sheet, 2022) 

Commercial partners Bio2Lab and Geneworks supported the development of the LAMP test through an industry-based PhD scholarship at La Trobe University supervised by Professor Travis Beddoe. 

Study – In-field LAMP assay for rapid detection of human faecal contamination in environmental water

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