Drop This Tiny Pill Into a Glass of Water to See If You're Drinking Pesticides

Dissolvable breath-strip technology may soon be used to screen contamination before we eat and drink.
(Photo: @fastcoexist/Twitter)
Jun 7, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

It’s no secret that unwanted chemicals lurk in our food and drinks. But what if a little pill could warn us before we gulp down pesticide-laced water?

Researchers have been experimenting with an unlikely drugstore buy: dissolvable minty breath strips. A team from McMaster University in Canada discovered that pullulan, the same slimy fungus used to make the breath freshener strips, could also be used to make pills that contain pesticide-detecting enzymes. Just drop the pill in a glass of water, let it dissolve, and watch for any color changes.

“If the water doesn’t have any pesticides, [the water] actually forms a very strong blue. If it’s transparent at the end, it’s very contaminated,” Carlos Felipe, the chemical engineering professor who led the study, told Fast Company.

He said that testing water this way is a much cheaper alternative than other contamination screening processes. According to Felipe, producing 1,000 pills in one day would only cost a dollar. Countries such as India, where a large pesticide market compromises the water supply, could benefit from this quick and affordable technology.

Fast Company reports that Sana Jahanshahi-Anbuhi, the student who came up with the breath strip idea, will start a field test in Kerala, India, by the end of this year. The researchers are now looking into more applications. They said the pills could possibly maintain vaccines, which otherwise need refrigeration, and E. coli–detecting molecules as well.

“We are currently working on detection of other contaminants [metals and E. coli] and starting on vaccine stabilization and delivery, which would have a tremendous impact for society,” Jahanshahi-Anbuhi told Medical Daily.