Wednesday, 07 May, 2008 Science
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Innovative Cell-Based Sensors to Detect Danger Immediately

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Scientists develop new sensors that will use sensory capabilities of biological cells to sense the danger.

The study conducted at University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering is aimed at creating new technology that will incorporate biological cells on a microchip. The small sensors will be only a few millimeters in size, being faster and more precise than today's biochemical detectors.

Researchers are working to integrate living cells into tiny chips that will be able to alert about chemical and biological pathogens. This will give the possibility to detect explosive materials, spoiled food and polluted water.

Depending on the task, the researchers can incorporate different types of cells on the microchips. For example, they will use olfactory cells and sensing circuit in order to spot an explosive device. Cells, exposed to harmful agents will show stress or die and sensing circuits will deliver an alert about the presence of the danger.

The cell-based sensors will have applications not only in national security systems, but also making great advancements in basic science. In pharmaceutical industry, this gives an opportunity for testing new drugs much faster than animal and human trials. It may also help in detecting harmful bacteria in food, to monitor water quality or to test the level of air pollution.

The study won the University of Maryland's 2004 Invention of the Year Award in the physical science.

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