NS²'s cloud-based sensing and analysis technology automatically detects environmental DNA that signals the presence of troublesome organisms.

Something fishy in the water? Minnesota monitoring tech senses risks in real time

Aquaculture is the practice of breeding and harvesting fish, shellfish, and plants in freshwater or saltwater environments for human use. Aquaculture supplies more than 50% of all seafood produced globally for human consumption, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association considers it one of the most resource-efficient ways to produce protein.

Diseases can occur in these farmed fish communities just like they can among other animal populations. But factors including climate change are contributing to worsening aquaculture disease outbreaks, creating a major threat to production, food security, and environmental health.

Minnesota startup Nucleic Sensing Systems, or NS², is developing patent-pending, cloud-based sensing and analytics technology to automatically detect environmental DNA that signals the presence of troublesome organisms in the water.

Typically, water testing involves taking samples in the field, sending the samples to a lab, and waiting to receive results. NS²’s system is different because it continuously analyzes and processes samples internally and provides real-time data.

The system alerts the user early to the risk of unwanted organisms in the water, which ultimately could reduce the use of antibiotics in fish farming.

“It acts like a biological smoke alarm,” said CEO Ed Rudberg. “You can get the information in the palm of your hand — on your phone or tablet — that can show quantitatively how much of that environmental DNA of a species of concern is present.”

The tracking device can gather data while stationary or in motion and operates via solar or battery power. It checks for new and emerging diseases, transmits data to the cloud, and provides a heat map of any species of concern.

Rudberg says that beyond aquaculture, NS²’s technology has applications for wastewater treatment facilities or anyone interested in lessening the potential of water-borne biological threats.

On being Midwest-based

Nucleic Sensing Systems was the Midwest regional winner for this year’s Cleantech Open and was a finalist in the national competition. Rudberg says participating in the accelerator allowed NS² to receive coaching, raise awareness of the business, and get in touch with potential investors.

The financial support is important because the Midwest has more investment and funding challenges than the coasts, he said.

“It’s hard to sometimes overcome external views of the Midwest as simply being flyover states. But I think many different innovators are pushing the needle and are trying to make this a better space for incubation and for startups,” Rudberg said.

NS² has found plenty of like-minded talent to tap into in the Midwest. 

“Some key advantages, particularly for the Twin Cities, is we have a lot of people who are really focused on water,” Rudberg said. “We’re also a great IoT [Internet of Things] hub, which really presents us with an opportunity to be with the best and the brightest when it comes to IoT technologies and platforms.”

What’s next

NS² is still pre-commercialization. It is in the pilot phase and partners with entities including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Montana for tech development. Within the year, Rudberg hopes to launch a Series A funding round to secure capital and move further toward full commercialization.