Water-testing for contamination goes portable

This Innovation Lab was completed in 2010.

The Challenge
Infectious diseases resulting from fecally contaminated water — diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, enteric fevers and infectious hepatitis — kill over 1.6 million people per year and make billions of other people sick. The goal is finding a simple, reliable, affordable and portable test that can be administered at water sources anywhere.


The Solution


To develop and evaluate portable field tests for fecal contamination in water.
What is required to make this work?

  • Lab on-site
  • Lab in a box
  • Lab on a budget
  • Lab-reliability and ease of use

 he Results and Imp


  • A simple, portable, low-cost compartmentalized plastic bag test (CBT) was developed for testing E. coli and hyrdogen sulfide.
  • The results showed good concordance in detecting fecal bacteria in water.
  • An international microbiological products company based in India has agreed to make and market the CBT as a self-contained kit.
  • Social enterprise company, Aquagenx, was formed around the CBT research team.




Mark Sobsey, PhD, Kenan University Distinguished Professor of environmental sciences and engineering, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, led the efforts of this Gillings Innovation Lab. With the help of his global partners, he aimed to reverse the chilling number of deaths and illnesses across the world.

Partners included: NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research; Resource Development International, Cambodia; and universities in Puerto Rico, South Africa and South Korea.