14 September 2023 16:15

Safety “in your pocket”

Portable devices to help test water, air, and food 

People come into contact with biological and chemical substances every day, and unfortunately, these contacts can be dangerous. Researchers are trying to eliminate threats and are developing devices for monitoring environment, security systems, product checks, biotechnologies, etc. These devices can help detect drugs and explosives, test water and air quality, safety of agricultural products, etc.

Such devices based on electrochemical biosensors are being developed by a team of researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. They are implementing a project “Investigation of the peculiarities of the formation of modern bioselective elements based on nanomaterials of different nature for electrochemical biosensors and sensor arrays with specified and controlled properties” with grant funding from the National Research Foundation of Ukraine. 

The project was supposed to be completed in 2022, but it will be finished in 2023, as the war delayed (but did not disrupt!) the schedule. 

What is the peculiarity of this research?

Serhii Dziadevych – PI, Corresponding Member of the NASU, Deputy Director for Research at the Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics of the NASU – told us that electrochemical biosensors could be a successful alternative to traditional analytical chemistry methods. “Biosensing is a modern field of analytical biotechnology that is developing at the intersection of many sciences: biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, materials science, radio engineering, electronics. It combines their knowledge and is an example of how high technology is implemented,” he noted.

For example, thousands of people today use portable glucose meters – these devices have evolved from suitcase-sized laboratory prototypes to devices that can be put in your pocket. The number of biosensor developments using nanotechnology is also growing rapidly. However, according to the PI, most of these works are empirical (obtained experimentally for certain types of transducers and biosensors). “As a rule, developers choose a nanomaterial without a thorough analysis of the capabilities of different signal conversion systems, specific features of transducers and bioselective material. Thus, biosensors are not used very effectively”, emphasized the professor .

The project team aims to change this situation. Researchers are confident that knowledge of the peculiarities of bioselective elements formation based on nanomaterials of different nature will help to create the most effective devices.

“There are different ways to improve the analytical characteristics of biosensors: nanomaterials can be coimmobilized (fixed on a solid carrier) together with the biological component, or integrated into the structure of the transducer”, continued the PI. “Some nanoparticles can be used independently as a selective element of chemosensors. That is, the analytical characteristics of biosensor devices can be improved or changed. To put it simply, you can choose the right material, develop a procedure for its use, and the device will help you solve exactly the tasks you need.”

It is also important that the device works equally effectively in the laboratory and in real life. The project implementers are also working on this.

Are these goals realistic? What competitive advantages do Ukrainian researchers have?

The PI explained that different research groups around the world are studying certain (specific) transducers and bioselective elements. However, researchers from the Institute of Molecular Biology and Genetics of the NASU have a competitive advantage: the Department of Biomolecular Electronics has all possible options for transducers and bioelectrics. And, last but not least, the researchers have extensive experience of working with these systems.

What has already been done?


The researchers modified the surface of electrochemical converters with nanomaterials (zeolites, calixarenes, carbon and metal nanoparticles, nanoscale additional layers), immobilized a number of enzymes (glucose oxidase, lactate oxidase, urease, acetylcholinesterase, butyrylcholinesterase, glutamate oxidase, arginase, etc.) using nanoparticles. Then they conducted a theoretical and experimental analysis of the electrochemical transducers and made sure that the analytical characteristics of the biosensors were improved.

The researchers are confident that this controlled change in the properties of biosensors will make it possible to develop devices with specified parameters for specific practical tasks. The main thing is to choose the right biologically sensitive elements and transducers, as well as the type of reaction (direct or inhibitory analysis). “Such an integrated approach will save time, effort, and money in the development of new types of portable biosensor devices”, states Serhii Dziadevych.

As a result of the work, 12 articles have been published, including 8 in Scopus journals (quartiles Q1-Q2) and one chapter in a book published by CRC Press. 

The project is implemented by a professional and friendly team.  During the pause in funding from the NRFU, the researchers ‘did not wait by the sea for the good weather’ but continued their research (with grant funding from the Simons Foundation (USA) and a European grant on biosensing). They talk about their success at international research conferences, even if they have to ‘catch’ Internet connection in the subway. This is how, for example, they joined a conference in France during the blackout in November 2022. The team has no habit of complaining about difficult circumstances – everyone does their best, with confidence that everything will turn out as well as possible.

Interviewed by Svitlana Galata

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