Smell sensors that act like bloodhounds

May 7th, 2008 - 5:39 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 7 (IANS) The next generation of smell sensors mounted on microchips would vastly speed up detection of everything from explosives to pathogens, toxins and biochemical weapons. These smart sensors, being developed by University of Maryland researchers, will take advantage of sensory capabilities of bio-cells to make such a technology possible.

They would also be far in advance of existing biochemical detectors, fooled by subtle differences between deadly pathogens and harmless substances, unable to monitor or interpret how these substances interact with biological systems.

Different cells can be grown on microchips. For example, a chip comprising a collection of olfactory cells plus sensing circuits can interpret a diversity of inputs and detect the presence of explosives.

The researchers plan to use other specialised cells much like a canary in a coal mine. The cells would show stress or die when exposed to certain pathogens, and the sensing circuits monitoring them would trigger a warning - more quickly and accurately than in present systems.

In pharmaceutical industry, these sensors could identify the most promising medicines in advance of animal and human trials, increasing cost-effectiveness and speed in developing new drugs. And they could speed up research in basic science.

They could be placed on fish as they swim in the ocean to monitor water quality, or set on a skyscraper’s roof to evaluate air pollution.

Pamela Abshire, Benjamin Shapiro and Elisabeth Smela are collaborating to make these new sensors possible.

A patent application is pending with the US Patent and Trademark Office.

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