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Scienion Sees Rheines Wasser Project as Springboard to Sell Array Test for Water Monitoring

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Scienion is hoping its participation in a unique research project will help raise awareness for a microarray-based test for water quality monitoring.

The effort, called Rheines Wasser, is the brainchild of Andreas Fath, a Furtwangen University professor of physical and analytical chemistry who recently swam a 1,231-km route down the Rhine from its source in the Swiss Alps to an estuary in the North Sea to raise awareness for the importance of water as a resource and the need for increased water protection.

During the trek, Fath collected 30 water samples for analysis on Scienion's microarray platform which was designed for the high-throughput detection in water of known and emerging pathogens.

Scienion CEO Holger Eickhoff told BioArray News this week that the Berlin-based company sees Rheines Wasser as an "initial field test" for the array, which was developed in collaboration with an EU-funded consortium called MicroAqua.

Since the Rheines Wasser project will analyze the same water samples using conventional approaches, Scienion is hoping that its array-based test will improve upon traditional methods for the detection of waterborne pathogens, such as cultivation, biochemical characterization, and microscopic detection, all of which are "laborious and time-consuming," Eickhoff said.

"We hope that our molecular biological tool will greatly enhance researchers' abilities to investigate biodiversity by identifying species, as well as to estimate gene flow and the distribution of species in time and space," he said. "The comparison with the other molecular biological testing methods will tell us if we will have a competitive product or not," Eickhoff added.

The array results will also be compared with PCR-based methods and next-generation sequencing, Eickhoff said. "We are especially curious on the comparison of our test with the PCR-based methods, since the field samples might contain potential polymerase inhibitors, which would favor direct RNA sampling like we do on our microarray."

Founded in 2000, Scienion initially targeted the catalog microarray market, before refocusing on instrumentation for array production and original equipment manufacturing. But with the development of the MicroAqua array, the firm is once again eyeing a role as a chip vendor.

According to Eickhoff, Scienion has already sized up the market for such a test, and potential customers include governmental water testing bodies, environmental testing agencies and companies, and firms that work with water as a precious resource, such as those in the food industry.

"It is a completely new but exciting field for us," he said.

Scienion's current microarray is produced in its SciChip Epoxy glass slide format for the high-throughput detection in water of about 150 known and emerging pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and cyanobacteria, and to assess the water quality by monitoring the presence of select bioindicators such as diatoms. The array is also used to identify cyanophages capable of potentially controlling and mitigating the periodic blooming of toxic cyanobacteria in drinking water reservoirs.

According to Eickhoff, the microarray content includes probes for Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Legionella, Clostridia, Listeria, Staphylococcii, Yersinia, Vibrio, Microcystis aeruginosa, Planktothrix, Nodularia spumigena, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, Cylindrospermopsis, Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Entamoeba, and others.

During the Rheines Wasser project, samples were obtained locally and filtered, and RNA was isolated from the filtered materials before being frozen. The frozen samples were then sent to the laboratories at the University of Furtwangen and Scienion, labeled, run on the microarrays, and analyzed.

Scienion provided all arrays, sample preparation, experimental work, and equipment gratis as part of the project.

Andres Fath, the impetus for the Rheines Wasser project, told BioArray News this week that data from the project will be presented at the Hansgrohe Water Symposium, which will be held in Schiltach, Germany in November.

While data from Scienion's arrays has yet to be made public, Fath seemed confident about the outcome.

"The Scienion technique is very new, innovative, and cheap," he said. "I am confident there will be good results."

Testing for waterborne pathogens is just one of Rheines Wasser's objectives though. The same water samples collected by Fath and his team will also be tested for industrial chemicals, metals, hormones, anti-depressants, sweeteners, antibiotics, painkillers, and drugs, among other substances, he said.

Specifically, Fath has partnered with the Alfred Wegener Institute Helogland to test for microplastics; with Wetsus, the center of excellence for sustainable water technology in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands to test for heavy metals; with Zurich-based aquatic research institute Eawag to test for the presence of pharmaceuticals; and with the Water Technology Center in Karlsruhe to test for fluorides and chemicals.

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