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Researchers Find Cheap, Simple Test to Prevent Fluoride Related Disorders

North-western University synthetic biologists developed a simple, cheap new test that may detect harmful levels of fluoride in drinking water.

Costing pennies to make, the system solely needs a drip and a flick: Drip a tiny water droplet into a ready test tube, flick the tube once to mix it, and wait for some time. If the water becomes yellow, then an excessive amount of fluoride—surpassing the EPA’s strict regulatory standards—is present.

This technique is starkly different from current assessments, which cost hundreds of dollars and usually require scientific expertise to use.

The researchers examined the system both in the laboratory at North-western and in the field in Costa Rica, where fluoride is available in abundance near the Irazu volcano. When consumed in high amounts over long intervals, fluoride can cause skeletal fluorosis – a painful condition that strengthens bones and joints.

Americans have a tendency to think of the health advantages of small doses of fluoride that strengthen teeth. However, elsewhere on the planet, mainly across parts of Africa, Asia, and Central America, fluoride naturally occurs at levels that might be harmful to consume.

The research was released online last week on December 13 in the ACS Synthetic Biology journal.

The study was carried out in collaboration with Michael Jewett, professor of chemical and biological engineering in McCormick, graduate students Walter Thavarajah, Adam Silverman and Matthew Verosloff initiated the analysis. Lucks is also an associate professor of biological engineering and chemical and in the McCormick School of Engineering.

Fluoride is an organically occurring element, which can seep out of bedrock into groundwater. Also found in volcanic ash, fluoride is especially abundant in areas surrounding volcanoes.

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