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Water Today Title April 14, 2024

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Update 2023/6/26
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Bringing Water Safety to the Digital Age

UN Top Innovator Swiss start-up bNovate analyzes microbial water quality in minutes instead of days

By Suzanne Forcese

“Our current BactoSense model can be used in the lab, at home, online for process control, remotely in a cave, or when lost in a forest. No need to bring your sample to the lab. Bring your lab to the sample.” -- Dr. Luigino Grasso CTO bNovate

BactoSense flow cytometer for online monitoring of microbiological bacteria in water

Interview with Dr. Luigino Grasso

WT: Please introduce yourself to our viewers and tell us about the founding of bNovate.

Grasso: I lead the Innovation and R& D department of bNovate. My background experience is in bioanalytics and biosensor development.

bNovate (which stands for ‘be innovative’) was founded in 2011 by Dr. Simon Kuenzi, Dr. Fabrice Merenda, Professor Dr. Peter Ryser and Dr. Sigi Straessler. Their goal was to build an easy-to-use, rapid solution, fully automated flow cytometer, robust enough for an industrial water supply environment. 

Helped by their network at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), the founding entrepreneurs started bringing together talented people with multidisciplinary knowledge to produce an innovative device. 

WT: And how did the team grow from there?

Grasso: bNovate’s superpower is all the passionate people in the company with skills in microbiology, electronics, optics, microfluidics and management. Simon designed the simple user interface. Fabrice developed the compact and robust laser bacteria module.

In 2014 the product was brought to market with the help of Douglas Watson and Jeremy Senouillet. Celine Jaeger and I joined the team in 2014.

In 12 years, the company has grown to a team of 31 in two offices in Switzerland and a sister company in Germany.

WT: What is the science behind the genesis of bNovate?

Grasso: Traditionally, measures of the bacteriological quality of water are overwhelmingly done by Heterotrophic Plate Count (HPC), which consists in counting bacteria growing on a nutrient source. This method requires about three days before getting results.

It is not fully reliable as it only detects 1% of the bacteria and generates a lot of plastic waste.

The bNovate team created a robust device that would bring faster and precise information more sustainably. They recognized flow cytometry (FCM) as a suitable technology for this challenge. It is an optical measurement of suspended particles such as bacteria, protozoa, viruses, cell fragments, and inorganic debris.

After being stained, the particles can be counted and binned based on how they scatter light and/ or fluoresce when passing through a laser beam. BactoSense is an automated flow cytometer which measures bacteria in their entirety in only 20 minutes directly on site.

WT: What makes bNovate unique and disruptive?

Grasso: As pioneers in the digitalization of water analysis, we collaborate closely with our partners and users to create and market innovative digital instruments for rapid microbiological water monitoring. We empower our customers to realize their economic, social and environmental goals by simplifying complex analytical techniques and providing the fastest and most precise automated diagnostics solutions. We make water analysis faster and cheaper, enabling quick reaction time, helping decision-making and ensuring consumers' safety.

WT: Recently you were recognized as one of the Top Innovators at the UN Water Conference as a winner of the Uplink Global Freshwater Challenge. There are also several other awards you have received.

What has this recognition meant for you?

Grasso: Since the introduction of BactoSense in 2017, bNovate has received multiple awards such as the Water Innovation Awards in 2019. We are always proud to see our hard work and efforts recognized and our vision approved globally. We believe that access to safe and clean drinking water is a fundamental right, and we are committed to providing cutting-edge technologies that help improve water safety and accessibility.

Winning the Uplink Global Freshwater Challenge is one of our latest achievements, and we are particularly honoured for this recognition. It is confirmation that BactoSense is an innovative solution and a game-changer in the push to make clean water for all a reality. Our multiple awards-winning mobile lab for bacterial detection in water is a solution combining economic success with ecological impact.

WT: How does your technology work?

Grasso: BactoSense is a fully automated, compact, ready-to-use instrument that is dumb-proof and usable by anyone, anytime and anywhere. It is an industrial bacteria sensor and employs flow cytometry as its primary measurement technology.

It is as reliable as any traditional flow cytometer with the advantage of always staying calibrated. Besides, it does not require human intervention as it includes an automated mixing and DNA staining (incubator) unit. 

BactoSense is also much easier to operate than a standard flow cytometer: no reagent handling and an incredibly intuitive user interface on its touchscreen.

BactoSense functions with sustainable refillable cartridges, and it has a clever waste management system. The current model can run for months without human intervention while yielding perfectly reliable results. Or it can be used manually in the lab, at home, online for process control, remotely in a cave or if lost in a forest. There is no need to bring your sample to a lab because you bring your lab to the sample.

WT: bNovate serves several industries. Please tell us how your system works in each of these.

Grasso: Drinking water Industry: Water treatment steps encompass pre-treatment, water treatment, filtration and disinfection – and all can be supervised online with the environmental and user-friendly BactoSense online and BactoSense Multi. The compact design of BactoSense makes it a transportable and reliable companion as well as a stationary solution in any water plant – ready to be used anytime, anywhere, by anyone.>

Bottled Water Industry

BactoSense can control Clean-in-Place validations, ensuring the measures taken are effective and thus providing a smooth operation of the plant. The fast time to result allows process optimization and reduced water waste. Moreover, one can control the microbial composition of the source of bottled water, react to abnormal bacterial growth and support risk management on-site.

Water For Pharmaceutical Use Water is indispensable for pharmaceutical production processes. It is omnipresent as raw material or as part of the final product. Therefore, hygienic quality is crucial for human health. With the AQU@Sense MB, the first alternative method for online bioburden analysis that was successfully validated, one can take control of the microbiological quality of pharmaceutical water supplies.

Research: The instrument allows for rapid quantification of bacterial counts and compares to conventional laboratory flow cytometers without the tedious sample preparation. At the same time, BactoSense allows for daily maintenance-free field studies and continuous supervision of field sites.

WT: Moving forward, what’s next?

Grasso: BactoSense measures all the bacteria. Detecting specific pathogens such as E.coli or Legionella is a vast and highly anticipated challenge for the upcoming years. We are constantly improving running devices with updates to Cloud functionalities, cyber security, and accessories to make them even more valuable for end-users. 

We are already well established in Europe and are now entering Asia and planning to come to the North American market very soon.

Our goal is to have BactoSense in all water supplies and become a standard in the water industry worldwide. Every municipality would be able to distribute thoroughly tested water that is 100% safe. 

We want to change the water regulation landscape globally. Currently, traditional measurement techniques are required or recommended. It is time to replace them with smart solutions like BactoSense

Our motto: Safe Water. Anytime. Anywhere.


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