The SENSEI project will develop a novel generic sensing methodology, integrating live sensor cells into a specially designed miniaturised hardware platform. The design and construction of such bio-hybrid sensors will combine state of the art synthetic biology with innovative integrated photonic circuits (IPCs), an objective that is unachievable with today’s technologies. The proposed methodology will exploit the versatile capability of bacteria to respond to the presence of either specific compounds or general environmental threats (i.e water toxicity or soil radioactivity) by emitting measurable optical signals.
An array of individual aggregates of the bacteria, each molecularly “trained” to sense a different environmental threat, will serve as the core sensing elements in optoelectronic (OE) systems that will quantify the fluorescent signal emitted by the bacteria. These systems will be based on a new class of IPCs operating in the visible domain, to be developed within the framework of the project. Current state of the art optoelectronics does not support such IPCs, and a roadmap for their development is not even anticipated. To enable the development of such circuits we shall propose a new kind of device physics: paraelectric electro optics, and provide a proof of concept for its validity by using it to implement the basic building block in a system that interrogates and deciphers the fluorescent signals emitted by bacterial sensor arrays.
Primarily aimed at revolutionising environmental monitoring, as the OE systems with which the bacteria are interfaced can be endowed with an inherently unified structure, the proposed approach also forms the basis for a generic and versatile sensing technology deployed in several different configurations. Furthermore, SENSEI will outline a roadmap for turning its achievements into a viable and effective technology, and explore its potential for establishing sensor networks for different indoor and outdoor applications. In view of the advantages such a technology will introduce to environmental quality monitoring, we expect this breakthrough to be of significant benefit to European citizens and third world countries alike.
Focusing on water quality monitoring as the technological benchmark, phase I of the project will include the following activities: (i) Create a packaging technology for the basic sensor unit, in which live cells will act as the core sensor elements in OE modules, and address system engineering issues arising from the need to regard the bacteria as operating OE entities; (ii) Provide the device physics, the material system and fabrication techniques for constructing the IPCs, the basic building blocks of the OE systems; (iii) Demonstrate a remotely operated system, to be deployed in critical points along water supply systems, simultaneously monitoring the presence of a multitude of potential pollutants, and providing continuous real-time water quality data.