Photothèque Veolia - Christophe Majani d'Inguimbert

Tadpoles: an environmental “watchfrog”

Posted on 17 April 2014.

The start-up company WatchFrog has developed a surprising biotechnology to assess water quality: florescent larvae.

WatchFrog, a start-up specialized in environmental risk assessment, has developed a surprising biotechnology to assess water quality: florescent larvae. This reliable method is five to ten times faster than conventional tests.

Wastewater discharged from wastewater treatment plants contains micropollutants from human activity (solvents, cosmetics, medication, food additives, etc.). Although only present in very small amounts, some pose a risk to the health of living organisms by permanently and irreversibly disrupting hormonal activity. These pollutants are called endocrine disruptors. WatchFrog set out to detect them using biological tests.

To be reliably identified, disruptors must be tested on an organism with a hormonal system. For WatchFrog, the challenge was to reconcile this requirement with ethical standards and the potential to roll out the process on an industrial scale. The company decided to use genetically-modified amphibian and fish larvae, physiologically very close to human beings, as its “environmental watchfrogs.” Using biomarkers, they emit a light when they come into contact with endocrine disruptors. “What makes this technology so original is the fact that it combines the advantages of an in vivo model – which takes into account the metabolism, and the relevance of the tests to human beings – with the ease, sensitivity, automation and low-cost of an in vitro model.”.

The WatchFrog method enables companies specializing in wastewater treatment to develop advanced tertiary treatment technology. This set of complementary procedures further reduces the presence of micropollutants. Because today, water is not just cleaned, it’s recycled. In some arid countries, 20% of wastewater is reused indirectly. In Windhoek, Namibia, 35% of water consumed is sourced from recycled wastewater. In space, and on the Concordia Antarctic base, for example, water is 100% recycled!

Main picture: Photothèque Veolia - Christophe Majani d'Inguimbert