Aquaculture North America

UMass Lowell researchers develop portable biosensors for waterborne diseases

December 27, 2023
By Aquaculture North America staff

Dr. Yan Luo Photo: University of Massachusetts Lowell

Scientists from the University of Massachusetts Lowell are developing a low-cost, portable biosensor technology that is designed to rapidly detect germs that threaten marine and freshwater life. 

The initiative, called BioSPACE, is designed to provide farmers, environmental agencies and water-reliant industries with sensors and a data analytics platform that can signal the presence of bacterial and viral pathogens, such as Vibrio and Pseudomonas, which attack shrimp and can also give rise to diseases in humans.

The initiative received US$1 million from the National Science Foundation to support further research. 

“This is critical in safeguarding public health, particularly in vulnerable coastal areas that provide communities with food, recreation and protection from storms,” said UMass Lowell electrical engineering Professor Yan Luo, who is leading the project. 


The research team also includes UMass Lowell Environmental Engineering associate professor, Sheree Pagsuyoin; Biology associate professor, Frederic Chain; and Biology assistant professor, Sarah Gignoux-Wolfsohn. Other partners include Northeastern University, the University of Arizona, and Woodpecker Microsystems of Houston, Texas.

“Existing technologies for detecting waterborne pathogens – such as the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test – are too slow and costly for large-scale deployment,” Luo said. “Delayed test results can lead to the spread of pathogens, which can progress to coastal contamination and extensive aquaculture losses.”

Luo said waterborne pathogens can occur naturally in the environment or be transmitted from infected species. Human activity can also introduce pathogens such as norovirus and E. coli, which enter aquatic ecosystems through sewage discharges and farm runoff, according to the university’s press release.

“This contamination can threaten fisheries, recreational areas and the sustainability of the increasingly important aquaculture industry,” he said. “Aquatic pathogens that infect commercially cultivated animals can cause disease outbreaks that can wipe out entire aquaculture farms.”

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