Anaerobic whole cell biological sensors

View all posters

Lara Bereza-Malcolm, Dr Gülay Mann, Dr Ashley Franks

La Trobe University, Australia

The early detection of specific compounds is essential in successfully combating environmental pollutants and potential biological threats, as well as monitoring human health and ecosystem functions. Microbes offer the potential to act as biosensors but often lack specificity and sensitivity. Synthetic biology is currently offering the potential to create modular designed biosensors of increased specificity and sensitivity capable of operating across a range of microbes and environmental conditions. Whilst previous biosensor experiments in aerobic microbes has been successful (i.e. arsenic and mercury detectors), the potential for biosensors utilizing anaerobic and soil associated microorganisms has not yet been fully explored. Anaerobic bacteria have previously been shown to be naturally efficient in bioremediation and biodegradation efforts. Thus focusing synthetic biology techniques on anaerobic bacteria has the potential to expand the range of whole cell biosensors available. Initial experiments have utilized standard Biobricks™ to determine the potential of current technology and assembly techniques. These initial experiments allow the selection of “user-friendly” designed parts and their potential to be determined for novel biosensor development in a range of microorganisms. While initial biosensor design will be conducted in E. coli, these sensor systems will be moved into other chassis including anaerobic microorganisms (including species from Shewanella and Geobacter genera) and rhizosphere-associated microbes (Pseudomonas species). Once standard sensory systems have been developed across a range of microorganisms, novel sensory components will be designed for the detection of specific heavy metals, microorganisms and other molecules of interest. Detection of a target will be lined to specific outputs, such as biodegradation, which will be a capability integrated into the sensory pathway. This project aims to develop flexible biosensor modules for use across anaerobic and soil associated microorganisms and further develop synthetic biology capacities in Australia.