French biotechnology company WatchFrog has created a transgenic tadpole that glows when it comes into contact with thyroid-disrupting compounds in water, according to Scientific American. WatchFrog hopes this unique method will help pollution regulators detect the class of chemical contaminants known as endocrine disruptors.
The company, which is beginning its first high-profile trial this month to test effluent from a hospital near Paris, says testing on living organisms — "in vivo" — is more revealing than chemical analyses because it can highlight any toxic chemical or mixture that disrupts a key organ or life system instead of targeting specific compounds.
A drawback of in vivo testing is that it is usually performed with full-grown animals, which means it is slow developing and expensive — each run costs 60,000 to 100,000 euros. WatchFrog's technique is much quicker and less expensive due to the use of 3-mm-long tadpoles, which are small enough to fit into most lab equipment. The company says the tests cost between 10 to 20 times less than typical in vivo tests and offer results in 24 to 48 hours. WatchFrog CEO Gregory Lemkine classifies the technique as "in vivo testing at the scale of in vitro."