iSee Logo
Select Page

Smart water disinfection project

Project Overview

icon-buildingicon-waterThe Smart Water Disinfection Project fits into two iSEE research themes: Water & Land Stewardship; and Sustainable Infrastructure.



In Lead Investigator Benito Mariñas’ words: “The Smart Water Disinfection team is working to overcome the safe water challenges plaguing 10 percent of the world’s population and accounting for more than 1.8 million deaths and 870 million cases of chronic malnutrition annually.

“Our interdisciplinary team is overcoming these challenges through:

  1. revolutionary advances in the fundamental understanding of pathogen infectivity and its control at the molecular level;
  2. developing innovative smart systems incorporating real-time sensors and effective treatment technologies to control infective pathogens; and
  3. creating business strategies focused on long-term sustainability through local entrepreneur markets.

“These advances will allow for real-time detection and control of pathogens in an economically and technically self-sustaining model that could be implemented by local entrepreneurs in rural communities throughout the world.”


Project News

The team reported significant progress in some major areas of its research. Technically speaking:

  • SWDP dataViral inactivation: Team members determined that UV irradiation emitted by a medium pressure (MP) source inactivates human adenovirus (HAdV) through different mechanisms depending on specific wavelengths. The fast inactivation of HAdV by MPUV may be a combination of direct and indirect viral capsid protein damage. The knowledge of which viral component gets affected during UV light inactivation will allow the monitoring of this pathogen in drinking water, and effectiveness inspection of water disinfection by UV light.
  • Viral inactivation: In the case of free chlorine and monochloramine disinfection, the team has shown that mRNA production is being disrupted at the same level as the kinetic rates of virus inactivation. This means that inhibition of an event occurring at or before early gene transcription must be the cause of adenovirus inactivation. Our findings will be the foundation to develop novel effective disinfectants and rapid methods for detection of infectious viruses in drinking water.
  • Detection: The mechanism for adenovirus inactivation by free chlorine remains unknown, and is most likely caused by modifications to the viral capsid resulting in host cell entry inhibition. To gain an understanding of how the major capsid proteins of adenovirus are damaged by free chlorine, the team developed a method to express the proteins in Escherichia coli. The recombinant proteins were then subjected to increasing free chlorine exposure. Several modified residues in fiber, penton base, and hexon major capsid proteins were detected that are important for viral entry. These modifications may play a role in inhibition of viral entry, thus leading to adenovirus inactivation by free chlorine.
  • Detection: The team has reported a simple and highly sensitive amplified aptamer-based fluorescent sensor for AFB1, which relies on the ability of nano-graphene oxide (GO) to protect aptamers from nuclease cleavage for amplified detection and on the nanometer size effect of GO to tune the dynamic range and sensitivity. The sensor was highly selective against other aflatoxins and common molecules in foods, and its performance was verified in corn samples spiked with known concentration of AFB1.
  • Local entrepreneur business implementation: The team engaged an interdisciplinary group of students in a yearlong project with field research that involved developing sensors for water tanks. Working with an NGO partner in Tanzania, team members have begun marketplace and sustainability literacy education, using trainers. The groundwork of designing materials and translating them has been completed, and co-PI Madhu Viswanathan will be traveling to Tanzania to guide training of trainers.

africa-tripSPRING 2015 —  In February, Professor Benito Mariñas and Illinois students from the CEE 449 Civil and Environmental Engineering Class visited Kenya and Uganda under the umbrella of the Safe Global Water Institute (SGWI) to learn about the needs, available resources and challenges in rural communities that need safe water and proper sanitation. The 12 undergraduate students who traveled, among other things, researched fluorosis (too much fluoride in water) and anaerobic digestion of waste (turning it into energy or fertilizer). To read more, visit the students’ blog site.


Pictured left:

CEE undergraduate student Gabrielle Levato collects a water sample from a borewell while fellow Illinois undergrads perform additional water quality analyses with the help of Makerere University graduate students during a February visit to the Oruchinga Refugee Settlement in Isingiro district, Uganda.

The Team

Benito Marinas for ISEEPrimary Investigator and co-PIs

Operating team: Students

Former team members


(each offered twice in 2015-16):

  • BADMN 332 Product Development for Subsistence Marketplaces
  • BADMN 533 Sustainable Products & Business Plans
  • CEE449 Environmental Engineering Lab


Publications & Presentations

(iSEE project members’ names in bold):

  • Publication: “Characterizing Bacteriophage PR772 as a Potential Surrogate for Adenovirus in Water Disinfection: A Comparative Analysis of Inactivation Kinetics and Replication Cycle Inhibition by Free Chlorine.” Gall, A.M.; Shisler, J.L.; Mariñas, B.J. ES&T 2016, 50 (5), 2522-2529.
  • Publication: “Inactivation Kinetics and Replication Cycle Inhibition of Adenovirus by Monochloramine.” Gall, A.M.; Shisler, J.L.; Mariñas, B.J. ES&T Letters 2016, 3 (4), 185-189.
  • Publication: “A Bottom-Up Approach to Short-Term Immersion in Subsistence Marketplaces: Methodological and Substantive Lessons on Poverty and the Environment From Tanzania.” Viswanathan, M.; Venugopal, S.; Minefee, I.; Guest, J.S.; Mariñas, B.J.; Bauza, V.; Valentino, L.; Kupaza, R.; Jones, M. Organization & Environment 2016, 1-23, SAGE Publications DOI: 10.1177/1086026616633255
  • Publication: “Fluorescent Assay methods for the detection of AFB1 based on DNA aptamer and GO. For 1:1 binding assay, each AFB1 aptamer binds to only a single AFB1 molecule. For amplification assay, the AFB1 can be regenerated by DNase I.” Zhang, J.; Lu, Y. Analysts, 2016.
  • Presentation: “Adenovirus disinfection processes.” Invited seminar speaker, KAUST, March 2016.
  • Presentation: Invited speaker for NSF Disinfection working group meeting on disinfection of viruses, May 2016.
  • Publication: “Waterborne Viruses: A Barrier to Safe Drinking Water.” Gall, A.M.; Mariñas, B.J.; Lu, Y.; Shisler, J.L. PLoS Pathog 2015, 11 (6), e1004867
  • Publication: “Analysis of the viral replication cycle of adenovirus serotype 2 after inactivation by free chlorine.” Gall, A.M.; Shisler, J.L.; Mariñas, B.J. ES&T 2015, 49 (7), 4584-4590.
  • Presentation: Gall A.; Shisler, J.; Mariñas, B. Adenovirus Conference, San Diego, CA, July 16-20, 2014.
  • Presentation: Gall A.Shisler, J.Mariñas, B. AEESP, New Haven, CT, June 13-16, 2015.

Read More about Safe Water …

Follow Online

View full details about Mariñas’ Safe Global Water Institute.

Read more about Water Engineering efforts at Illinois.