DNA Diatom Biosensor

In order to attain and maintain the desired level of ecological quality in European waters, water management authorities need to implement comprehensive monitoring and measurement packages that enable them to comply with the European requirements set by the Habitat Directive (Natura 2000) and, in particular, the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Diatoms (algae) are an important group of biological indicator organisms. They react quickly to changes in their environment and environmental indicator values are known for many species.

However, the identification of diatoms requires highly qualified taxonomic expertise and identification errors and differences between experts cannot be excluded. That makes analyses relatively expensive and the turnaround times are also relatively long. It is hoped that the Diatom DNA Biosensor – a smart tool for the automated identification of diatoms – will change this.

Geeft een sfeerbeeld van typisch Nederlands water waarin de DNA Diatom Biosensor kan worden toegepast

Dutch ditches, canals, rivers and lakes are full of ecological information hidden in diatoms


The rapid development of new identification methods based on DNA means that the way is open to simplifying the use of diatoms as indicators of water quality in flowing and still waters. DNA metabarcoding is used to automatically identify species-specific DNA barcodes in a sample by comparing them with DNA reference databases. This metabarcoding approach also makes it possible to use diatoms for water quality assessment without the need for full identification down to the species level.


The aim of this project is to establish a validated quick scan for monitoring diatoms by developing a proven DNA detection method. That is being done by comparing ecological insights based on traditional monitoring with information collected in parallel from species lists generated by DNA analyses. The data are collected in regular sampling and in pilot projects in, for example, rural areas during which the effects are monitored of changes in agricultural and water management with the aim of mitigating eutrophication.


The DNA Diatom Biosensor can be used to establish an objective, spatially comprehensive picture of all kinds of information about ecological water quality on the basis of the environmental indicator values of diatoms. The costs are similar to, or even lower than, those of existing methods. The DNA Diatom Biosensor therefore provides market parties with promising new options for the development of an efficient toolkit for monitoring, diagnosis and assessment for water management authorities and water users, both nationally and internationally.