Application of Sensor Technology in the Industrial Biotechnology Sector

14 Apr 2014

The world market for sensor technology is expected to reach $12 billion by 20151. This phenomenal growth has been fuelled by many factors including the need to find alternative ways to reduce ever-increasing healthcare costs, the need for personalised medical diagnosis and a growing population with higher risks for diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease and chronic respiratory diseases.

Sensor technology offers a potentially simple and elegant solution to help ease these growing healthcare challenges. Their development dates back to the early 1960s when Clark and Lyons2 combined an electrochemical oxygen sensor with a dialysis membrane enriched with an enzyme to measure glucose. Advances in sensor technology have grown significantly over the last few decades and this has been summarised in an excellent review by Simonian et al1. Of the many developments, the use of bio-reporter assays in biosensors and application of state-of-art nanotechnology techniques to introduce novel materials and miniaturisation are worthy of further mention below.

Bio-reporter sensors typically consist of genetic elements that can be turned on or off in the presence of an agent present in the cell's environment. When activated, the gene transcription and translation produces a reporter protein that ultimately produces a detectable signal. Well-known examples of bio-reporters assays are the luciferase enzyme systems derived from bacteria3 or firefly4, which produces a bright blue-green light in the presence of an exogenous substrate.

The use of carbon nanotubes represents one of the commonest applications of nanotechnology in sensor technology, in combination with biosensors involving enzyme electrodes1 and enzyme-labelled immunosensors1. Other nanoparticle-based technologies have been described extensively in the literature where signal transduction is mediated via conductometric, stripping voltammetry and multi-labelling using quantum dots and molecular beacons.

Although a wide variety of sensors have been developed, they are all designed to perform two key tasks; molecular recognition and signal transduction. And it is the latter task that is typically used to characterise them as electrochemical, optical, spectroscopic, piezo-electrical or thermal devices. The many reported applications range from the rapid, unequivocal diagnosis of medical conditions like heart attacks used in hospitals to wireless, field-based devices used to monitor environmental samples.

To learn more about sensor technology applied in the biotechnology sector, the Separation Science and Technology Group has assembled a panel of world-renowned experts in the field of sensor technology in a conference on 21 October 2014, at SCI London HQ.

The expert panel includes Prof Andrew De Mello (ETH, Zurich), Prof Tony Cass (Imperial College, London), Prof Sergey Piletsky (Leicester University) and Prof Jeremy Ramsden (Buckingham University). Each will present on the latest developments in sensor technology and discuss their own work covering development of innovative nanotechnology methods, fabrication of sensors using state-of-the-art materials, applications of optical, micro-fluidic chemical and biological sensors to monitor and control industrial processes.

This conference should benefit process technologists, novice scientists and experts alike who are keen to hear the latest developments from leading authorities in the development and application of sensors technology.


1. J Kirsch, C Siltanen, Q Zhou, A Revzin and A Simonian, Chem Soc Rev, 2013, 42, p8733-8768.
2. L C Clark and C Lyons, Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1962, 102, p29-45.
3. E A Meighen, Ann Rev Genet, 1994, 28, p117-139.
4. C H Contag, Neoplasia, 2000, 2(1-2), p41-52.

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