Mitochondria powers new explosives detector

December 17th, 2008 - 5:28 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Dec 17 (ANI): Scientists have developed a bioelectronic sensor, the size of a postage stamp, which uses cell mitochondria to sniff out bombs and other explosives.

Common explosives detectors are not only expensive, but bulky and complex as well and thus become difficult for use in the field.

However, now the new sensor invented by Shelley Minteer and her colleagues at St Louis University in Missouri might reform the way detection of explosives is conducted.

The detector has been created on the lines of Minteer group’’s work to develop fuel cells powered by mitochondria, the parts of cells that generate energy by burning a chemical called pyruvate.

Pyruvate, which is produced by the digestion of sugars, is the compound that starts the Krebs cycle - the complex series of chemical reactions in cells that releases energy as part of respiration.

While working towards developing a fuel cell that uses mitochondria bathed in pyruvate to generate an electric current, the researchers devised a biological “off” switch in the form of a naturally occurring antibiotic called oligomycin.

Oligomycin hampers the oxidation of pyruvate and when added to the cell, it switches off the current.

The team found that if then they added trace amounts of nitrobenzene - a member of the same chemical family as many explosives - they could reverse the effect of oligomycin and switch the mitochondria back on.

Minteer said that any chemically related explosive should also work in the same way, and that the sensor is able to detect explosives in concentrations as low as 2 parts per trillion.

“We should be able to detect all nitroaromatic explosives. We are studying the other nitroaromatic explosives to determine what we can detect,” New Scientist quoted Minteer as saying.

According to Timothy Swager, head of chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the new device is “an elegant demonstration of a bioelectronic sensor”. (ANI)

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