Biosensors to cheaply detect infectious diseases

Synthetic biology is the design and building of biological systems to improve existing functions or introduce new purposes. It draws inspiration from nature and uses materials offered by the living environment. Scientists at the Singapore Consortium for Synthetic Biology and NUS Synthetic Biology for Clinical and Technological Innovation programme tell The Straits Times about some of the exciting work they are doing in the field.

Infectious diseases pose global health challenges.

Cholera, an infectious disease caused by the waterborne Vibrio cholerae bacterium, remains a major problem in developing countries. V. cholerae is also becoming increasingly antibiotic resistant.

There is a critical need to rapidly detect and identify the bacterium so as to administer the appropriate treatment. The current detection method is still slow or costly.

We are making use of the way V. cholerae communicates to develop novel biosensors, and our research team has engineered E. coli to do so.

We are currently developing the sensor into a potentially cheap and easy-to-use diagnostic tool for use in affected areas, moving the technology from bench to bedside.

Using the current system as a blueprint, we are modifying it to detect other superbugs. In the longer term, we envision having a probiotic sensor which can be easily taken in the form of probiotic drinks.

These could then continuously monitor infectious disease-causing bacteria in our gut and produce early warning when bad bacteria are present.

Associate Professor Poh Chueh Loo, Department of Biomedical Engineering, NUS Faculty of Engineering

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2017, with the headline 'Biosensors to cheaply detect infectious diseases'. Print Edition | Subscribe