The self-powered biosensor acts just like a canary down a mine shaft and could be used to warn of chemical leaks before they become too damaging to humans and the environment.
Millions of pounds are spent each year preventing industrial accidents, but this simple sensor can make detection both simpler and cheaper. It can sense leaks at industrial plants, oil pipelines and landfill sites.
The students came up with the world’s first self-powered biosensor as part of a prestigious international competition.
And the judges were so impressed with the device, they awarded them first prize.
Student Scott Ramsay said: “The research involved engineering a microbe that detects toxic chemicals — like those resulting from oil and natural gas refineries. When the microbes detect the offending chemicals they synthesise a chemical causing the fuel cells to generate electricity that can trigger a signal to act as an early warning system.
“It could be also integrated into a wireless early warning communications systems leading to a network of analytical stations in rivers, lakes and wells allowing industry to measure the amount of toxins in effluent so they can keep within environmentally safe and legal levels. The technology could also be further developed to detect pesticide levels, for example, pesticides in baby food or toxins in drinking water.
“Our sensor won the first prize in the Environment section of the International Genetically Engineered Machine awards.
“The competition involved teams from leading universities around the world designing and building genetically engineered devices in the newly emerging field of synthetic biology. The work took place over the summer and culminated in an event at the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, where 53 teams from 20 countries presented their research to an international set of judges.”
The University of Glasgow are now looking to secure funding to develop the sensor further.
The multi-disciplinary team of 11 students combined their knowledge of molecular biology, computing, engineering, mathematics and statistics to win first prize in Environment track, and a gold medal, successfully overcoming strong competition from other teams including Ivy League universities MIT and Brown.
Team mentor and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Lecturer, Dr Susan Rosser said: “This is a fantastic achievement for this young team. It is the first time Glasgow has entered the iGEM competition, and to see real life practical applications from the project is excellent.”
Professor David Gilbert from the University’s Department of Computing Science said: “The team really worked together so well, and put a lot of effort into their project. I am also proud of all the members of the advisory team who made themselves available over the summer. This result has helped to put Glasgow on the international map in synthetic biology.”
Dr Ed Hutchinson, Project Manager of Scottish Enterprise's Technology Team, who provided sponsorship for the project, said: "The team's success in such a prestigious international competition is a fantastic achievement. Synthetic biology is an emerging field of science with enormous commercial potential across a range of industries
"For Scotland to be seen to be leading in this area would help to strengthen our already world capabilities spanning electronics, engineering and life sciences and we will be looking at how we can work alongside our universities and research institutes to capitalise on the opportunities that this could have for growing Scotland's economy."
Martin Shannon | alfa
Five-point plan to integrate recreational fishers into fisheries and nature conservation policy
20.03.2019 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)
Rain is important for how carbon dioxide affects grasslands
06.03.2019 | University of Gothenburg
DESY and MPSD scientists create high-order harmonics from solids with controlled polarization states, taking advantage of both crystal symmetry and attosecond electronic dynamics. The newly demonstrated technique might find intriguing applications in petahertz electronics and for spectroscopic studies of novel quantum materials.
The nonlinear process of high-order harmonic generation (HHG) in gases is one of the cornerstones of attosecond science (an attosecond is a billionth of a...
Nano- and microtechnology are promising candidates not only for medical applications such as drug delivery but also for the creation of little robots or flexible integrated sensors. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have created magnetic microparticles, with a newly developed method, that could pave the way for building micro-motors or guiding drugs in the human body to a target, like a tumor. The preparation of such structures as well as their remote-control can be regulated using magnetic fields and therefore can find application in an array of domains.
The magnetic properties of a material control how this material responds to the presence of a magnetic field. Iron oxide is the main component of rust but also...
Due to the special arrangement of its molecules, a new coating made of corn starch is able to repair small scratches by itself through heat: The cross-linking via ring-shaped molecules makes the material mobile, so that it compensates for the scratches and these disappear again.
Superficial micro-scratches on the car body or on other high-gloss surfaces are harmless, but annoying. Especially in the luxury segment such surfaces are...
The Potsdam Echelle Polarimetric and Spectroscopic Instrument (PEPSI) at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona released its first image of the surface magnetic field of another star. In a paper in the European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the PEPSI team presents a Zeeman- Doppler-Image of the surface of the magnetically active star II Pegasi.
A special technique allows astronomers to resolve the surfaces of faraway stars. Those are otherwise only seen as point sources, even in the largest telescopes...
Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have proposed a way to create a completely new source of radiation. Ultra-intense light pulses consist of the motion of a single wave and can be described as a tsunami of light. The strong wave can be used to study interactions between matter and light in a unique way. Their research is now published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
"This source of radiation lets us look at reality through a new angle - it is like twisting a mirror and discovering something completely different," says...
11.03.2019 | Event News
01.03.2019 | Event News
28.02.2019 | Event News
22.03.2019 | Life Sciences
22.03.2019 | Life Sciences
22.03.2019 | Information Technology