Quorum Sensing Research Wins $2.5M DoD Contract

Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BioE) Professor and Chair William Bentley and director of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute's (UMBI) Center for Biosystems Research Dr. Gregory Payne have been awarded a $2.5M, five-year contract by the U.S. Department of Defense for the development of next generation threat detection systems. The long-term goal is the rapid and sensitive detection of an environmental threat, and the immediate conversion of this information into electronic signals that can be readily processed and communicated.

In the study, researchers will use bacterial "quorum sensing"—a type of intercellular communication using signaling molecules—as a model of how biology detects environmental cues, passes this information to bacteria of the same or different species, and how the recipients of this communication act on the information. In contrast to electronic devices, communication processes in the biological world are generally mediated by chemical, and not electronic, signals.

Researchers plan to bridge the divide between biological and electronic information processing to generate the sensitive and selective sensors that can detect threats in the field.

One of the study's key features is a novel technology that uses a biological substance called chitosan, a common natural bipolymer, that is capable of integrating biological sensing elements into electronic devices. Researchers will employ chitosan to assemble the individual elements of the quorum sensing network on chips so these elements can be individually studied and ultimately combined into assemblies that can detect and report threats.

Bridging the gap between biological signaling and electronic devices has also been a major goal for medical diagnostics as well as other applications relevant to detection of environmental hazards.

For More Information:

Visit the Fischell Department of Bioengineering web site »
Visit the UMBI web site »
Visit the Center for Biosystems Research web site »
Visit Professor Bentley's web site »
Visit PDr. Payne's web site »

Published June 19, 2008