Biosensors – Alert systems for the monitoring of drinking and process water

Clean drinking water is vital for humankind. Water pipes, however, are in permanent and unforeseeable danger of being contaminated. For example, repairs, industrial accidents or pesticides from farmland may result in groundwater contaminations entering the drinking water supply systems. In addition, decentralized and mobile drinking water supplies in particular constitute a potential target for criminal or terrorist attacks, for example through poisoning.


Providing secure and safe water supply

In order to prevent contaminated water from reaching the consumer, the drinking water in the distribution system has to be monitored constantly. After that, a quick response to the contamination with toxic substances is only possible if the analysis system is directly connected to the plant or the pipe system as an online measuring system.

In industry, the treatment of process water with chemical-physical processes is frequently required for a complete degradation of persistent or hazardous compounds. Biosensors are well suited to achieving a prompt and comprehensive monitoring of the purification process; these biosensors can be selected and adapted to meet individual requirements.


Real-time alarm systems with biosensors as early warning systems

It is only possible to react quickly, if the verification system is bound directly with the system or the pipe system as inline measure. Biosensors consisting of living cells react quickly to the presence of toxic compounds and are, therefore, well suited for utilization in online alarm systems. Furthermore there are portable systems for onsite measure techniques for flexible operations in disaster areas or to control mobile water tanks of busses and ships.

Fraunhofer IGB is working together with partners to develop alarm systems that allow online monitoring through a rapid response time. As biosensors we use different strains of bacteria and mammalian cell lines in suitable measuring cells. The biological systems differ in their metabolic properties, their cell structure and their sensitivity to chemicals and toxins of biological origin. For the evaluation of the responses we use different measurement principles.


Advantages of biosensors

  • In-situ monitoring possible
  • Quick response of biosensors (reaction time < 5 min)
  • Detection of toxic effect of chemical substances or biological toxins
  • Transduction of alarm signal is based on reaction of biosensor

Reference projects

AquaBioTox – Biological sensors for online detection of toxic substances by fluorescence change


In the "AquaBioTox" project, solutions were developed for the continuous online monitoring of drinking water pipes. For this purpose, a whole-cell-based sensor concept with immobilized bacteria and mammalian cells was developed.

Toxikomb – Detection of hazardous substances using a combination of physical and biological sensor technology


Physical and biological methods come together in the TOXIKOMB project in order to offer an innovative solution with improved, but rapid detection of hazardous substances in the field of drinking water.

ResiWater – Innovative Secure Sensor Networks and Model-based Assessment Tools for Increased Resilience of Water Infrastructures

The French-German cooperative research project ResiWater aims to prepare water utilities for crisis management and enhance their resilience against major threats such as natural hazards, collapse of IT infrastructure or terrorist attacks. For this, novel sensors and secure sensor networks, detection methods and monitoring tools are to be developed at Fraunhofer IGB.