DNA chip to cut waterborne disease

Gina Miller (echoz@hotmail.com)
Fri, 07 May 1999 21:18:35 PDT

Friday May 7 6:32 PM ET

Atlanta Tests DNA Chip To Cut Waterborne Disease By June Preston

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A French water management firm chose Atlanta Friday as the U.S. test site for a revolutionary DNA chip that can detect up to 400,000 organisms in drinking water, a development that could dramatically reduce waterborne disease.

Lyonnaise des Eaux, the water division of the French conglomerate Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux, said the testing period for the DNA chip would last up to two years.

Thierry Bourbie, president of the French company's international division, told Reuters the DNA technology works by matching the genetic fingerprints of bacteria and viruses.

``It gives genetic fingerprints that are very precise,'' he said. ``It says
whether a microorganism is alive or dead. It will allow corrective measures to be taken very quickly because of the speed of its diagnosis.''

Bourbie said with current technology it takes several days to diagnose a waterborne virus, and it could take weeks for a complete analysis of the organism. With the DNA technology the time lag drops to four hours at one-tenth the cost.

Key to cost savings is the fact that the DNA chip measures dozens of organisms in a single test. With existing technology, a specific test is required for each microorganism.

The DNA chip holds the potential to reduce the incidence of such waterborne diseases as polio, guinea worm disease and amoebic dysentery.

Patricia Renaud, who heads the research department at Lyonnaise des Eaux, said it could also cut the risk that someone could deliberately poison a water supply as an act of germ warfare.

``That is precisely what it would do,'' she said.

The DNA chip was Renaud's idea. She said the surface of a chip would contain
``the DNA we want to screen for in water.'' ''We can match up to 400,000 DNA
sequences,'' she said.

United Water Services, the U.S. partner of Lyonnaise des Eaux, will oversee the test. David Sherman, United Water president, said it would take at least 18 months before the test is completed and the technology is ready for commercial use.

``We're going to start implementing it in the immediate future,'' he said.
``Based on our research, we will be able to bring this to commercial use in
18 months to two years, once it's tested and approved by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).''

Sherman said the technology was designed for drinking water systems and not for recreational water sometimes consumed by the public. Last year, two Atlanta-area children died after being exposed to the deadly E.coli virus while playing in a toddler pool at a water park.

``This technology is not being cultivated for a swimming pool operation, but
if it were used it could detect a virus in the water in four hours instead of days later. It would detect the water problem very quickly,'' he said.

Lyonnaise des Eaux manages water quality in 30 cities around the world, including Paris, Barcelona, Budapest, Casablanca, Amman, Buenos Aires, Jakarta, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City. It signed a 20-year contract with Atlanta last November.

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