Project Results: 

DNA based water quality testing

Making data on water quality faster available and more accurate

About the project
This project introduced a field method for microbiological analysis, based on DNA technology, that could be used in the field to improve water quality monitoring. Microbial contamination of drinking water (sources) by human pathogens remains an important contributor to illness and death. An innovative field device detects DNA of human pathogens in water samples, while integrating the digital data directly into web based monitoring systems. Next to E-Coli testing, the pilot planned to include in the test several other organisms (e.g. salmonella) to get a package that is appropriate for Sub-Sahara Africa.

Key results

  • Pilot demonstrated the added value of the technology.

  • The technology is prepared for field use in Africa.

  • The sub-studies demonstrated that water treatment like chlorination could not prevent pathogens to be present in distribution systems (by regrowth and re-contamination).

  • The pilot has defined areas for further development of the technology.

Tips for the future

  • The technology requires skilled staff, clear standards (now mostly absent) and comes at a higher unit price. These obstacles can be overcome with scale, training and further development.

Potential for growth
There is already a follow-up project (with RVO) in association with another VIA Water project Nhartanda Verde. Also, there is a 3 year plan to focus on Mozambique for further development and elaboration, before the technology can be scaled over Africa. But there are already requests from Mali (the Somagep/Waternet project) and others to expand. Contacts are with UNICEF/WHO on the applicability of the technology and the setting of standards.

Project partners
Orvion, WE Consult Ltd. (and AIAS, FIPAG and ARA-Zambeze)

2017 – November 2018


Many water sources and even tap water are often not safe for drinking. Water testing is rarely done. And if it is done, the procedures to test comtamination with micro-organisms are cumbersome, little accurate and only indirectly indicating that water could be contaminated. The Dutch Company Orvion has developed testing methods, based on DNA traces of micro-organisms. In this pilot, Orvion would like to explore the potential for simple testing methods in the African context.

Project Plan

During the pilot in Mozambique, more than 100 samples will be analysed from various sources to detect the most relevant micro-organisms for which a more simple DNA tester will be developed. The project will be linked to several programmes where water safety is an issue. Therefore WE-Consult and AIAS in Mozambique are selected as direct partners. The results will be shared in relevant platforms to open a discussion on the actual methods and the prospects of these innovative DNA based technology.

Target group

Organisations, companies and authorities involved in improving, monitoring and verifying water quality.


The pilot stage will analyse whether there is a potential for this type of technology and what needs to be done to get it accepted. By involving different sector partners, it is the expectation that dissimination can be facilitated.

Overview of Goals

1. Generate quantitative data on microbial drinking water safety from various sources in Mozambique (households, water sources, distributed water, surface water) using DNA-analyses. Five analyses for relevant waterborne diseases will be performed on each of the (approximately) 150 samples.
2. Determine the most feasible (combination of) available technologies for use in the field under challenging conditions in Mozambique by non-specialised personnel. This device will be used for proof of concept testing in the Netherlands and in Mozambique.
3. The generated data and technology will be presented to and discussed with different stakeholders, end users and clients to determine the added-value of this development as well as the technical and financial feasibility for local implementation.

Ultimately this innovative technology will lead to:
• Increased amount of high quality data from WASH surveys: identifying actual health risks and truly effective preventative measures.
• Increased quality control of drinking water in both rural and in urban settings, for example in drinking water distribution networks, households, drinking water resources, surface waters, etc.
• More effective testing of (low-cost) water treatment techniques and methods, such as ceramic filters, chlorine, treatment plants, etc.
• More effective and efficient combatting of waterborne diseases, ultimately helping to save lives.

Results and indicators

  • 5 most relevant pathogens selected to define water safety
  • Affordable and appropriate DNA based field testing option as an alternative for E-Coli testing
    • Field device developed and tested