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Water Systems' Virus Detection Funded

UCR Receives Support for Water Testing Research

UCR research to develop technology to rapidly detect
disease-causing viruses in water supplies.

(November 27, 2006)

Rotavirus particles visualized by immune electron microscopy. Courtesy, U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Rotavirus particles visualized by immune electron microscopy. Courtesy, U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — — Scientists at the University of California, Riverside have received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a fast and effective means of detecting disease-causing viruses in drinking water supplies.

The research project is titled Development of High-Throughput and Real-Time Methods for the Detection of Infectious Enteric Viruses, and is being spearheaded by Wilfred Chen, Ashok Mulchandani and Nosang Myung at the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering; and Marylynn V. Yates of the Department of Environmental Sciences at UCR.

The grant is part of the EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research and is funded through its Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program.

Because of the expense and the delay in obtaining results, regulators in the U.S. have not required testing of drinking water for virus contamination. “The cost for testing one sample is roughly $1,000 and can take up to two weeks for results to come back,” said Yates.

The work holds national and global interest because it addresses the issue of finding and treating viral contaminants, such as hepatitis A and E, rotavirus, adenovirus, and other disease-causing, waterborne viruses, in water systems. Viruses claim the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the developing world each year, according to the World Health Organization. Nationally, waterborne viruses sicken more than 100,000 people each year, according to the EPA.

The research carried out at UCR is developing a unique method combining flow cytometry, to automate the detection process, and molecular beacons using quantum dots as high sensitivity detectors, along with a genetically engineered cell line to probe and quantify infective viruses. Researchers seek to develop a system that can work in real time.

As part of the UCR team, microbiologist Yates, lends her expertise in the detection of infective viruses; Myung’s expertise is in quantum dots and nanostructures; sensors and analyses are the purview of Mulchandani; and Chen’s expertise is in combining engineering with molecular biology.

The use of quantum dots — nanoparticle-sized semiconductors that emit different intensities of energy depending on their size — is a new approach to detection in this application because they are more stable than the organic dyes now in use, according to Mulchandani.

In October (2006), the U.S. EPA announced its Ground Water Rule, which refines the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, requiring regulations that call for measures to protect ground water sources of public drinking water supplies from disease-causing viruses and bacteria. Systems must begin to comply with the new requirements by Dec. 1, 2009.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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