Project presentations on the website

Every project supported by Gebert Rüf Stiftung is made accessible with a web presentation that informs about the core data of the project. With this public presentation, the foundation publishes the funding results achieved and contributes to the communication of science to society.


Biosensor for Bacteria Monitoring in Drinking Water


Für den Inhalt der Angaben zeichnet die Projektleitung verantwortlich.


Dieses von der Gebert Rüf Stiftung geförderte Projekt wird von folgenden weiteren Projektpartnern mitgetragen: EPFL, Laboratoire de Production Microtechnique (LPM); EPFL, Flow Cytometry Core Facility (FCCF)

Project data

  • Project no: GRS-055/11 
  • Amount of funding: CHF 297'000 
  • Approved: 26.01.2012 
  • Duration: 05.2012 - 03.2014 
  • Area of activity:  Pilotprojekte, 1998 - 2018

Project management

Project description

Microbial contamination in distribution drinking water is a public health threat, as a single contamination event can result in severe diseases quickly striking a large population. Today's methods to assess bacterial contaminations are based on manual culture on Petri dishes, and require an incubation time of 24 to 72 hours; this delay is too long to prevent the distribution of water in the occurrence of a contamination.

To address this problem, a team of scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is developing an innovative bio-sensor that continuously monitors the presence of bacteria in drinking water. The sensor is meant to be installed at critical locations of the water distribution network, such as unfiltered natural water sources, water tanks, or at the outlet of water filtration plants to permanently check their functionality. The objective is developing a compact autonomous sensor that performs on-line measurements giving a fast evaluation of bacterial content, hence permitting a timely response in the event of a contamination.

What is special about the project?

While a number of chemical and physical parameters are readily measured on-line in water distribution networks (e.g. pH, ions / cations, chlorine concentration, turbidity, radioactivity, etc.) the bacterial population is still measured off-line by laboratory cellular culture. The bio-sensor developed in this project is meant to fill this gap, allowing a much faster (minutes instead of days) assessment of the micro-biological quality of water. The autonomous aspect of the sensor is also very important: it means that the sensor can be installed at remote locations, and can operate maintenance free for long periods of time.

Our goal is to quickly transform this project into a commercial application. The potential market is enormous; there are over 3'000 water treatment plants in Switzerland alone, and over 100'000 in Europe that could benefit from our device.


During this project we have successfully built a fully functional prototype that can measure the bacteria concentration in drinking water in less than 15 minutes. The sampling and the DNA labeling requires absolutely no manual preparation, everything is done automatically. Thanks to a very sensitive optical detection module our instrument is able to detect even the tiniest bacteria in drinking water. The measurement speed of 20 min represents a tremendous improvement over the traditional petri dish plating methods that require a manual sampling followed by an incubation time of 1-3 days.

With our technology the feedback at the outlet of water works is quasi instantaneous in case of a contamination. Our device completely fulfils the new Swiss regulation 333.1 from the Federal Office of Public Health that recognized this measurement technique for bacterial concentration monitoring in drinking water. Field tests are currently ongoing at major water works in Switzerland.


None so far


None so far


Persons involved in the project

Last update to this project presentation  12.05.2021