Viewing bacteria through a telescope: standoff detection of buried landmines by microbial bioreporters


The small size requirements, rapid responses and sensing versatility of bacterial-based whole-cell biosensors allow their integration into diverse types of devices, for laboratory as well as field applications, for environmental, pharmaceutical, security and industrial uses. The relative ease by which molecular sensing and reporting elements can be fused together to generate dose-dependent quantifiable physical (luminescent, fluorescent, colorimetric, electrochemical) responses to pre-determined conditions allows the construction of diverse classes of sensors. Over the last two decades we and others have employed this principle to design and construct microbial bioreporter strains for the sensitive detection of (a) specific chemicals of environmental concern (heavy metals, halogenated organics etc.) or (b) their deleterious biological effects on living systems (such as toxicity or genotoxicity). In many of these cases, additional molecular manipulations beyond the initial sensor-reporter fusion may be highly beneficial for enhancing the performance of the engineered sensor systems. This presentation highlights several of the approaches we have adopted over the years to achieve this aim, mostly focusing on the application of live cell microbeads for the remote detection of buried landmines and other explosives.

Shimshon Belkin

Shimshon Belkin is a professor at the Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and is the incumbent of the Chair for Industrial Hygiene. He is past director of the Department of Plant & Environmental Sciences as well as of several Hebrew University academic programs including the Environmental Sciences, Biotechnology, and Industrial Management Programs. The Belkin laboratory is an internationally recognized authority on whole-cell biosensors, with an emphasis on bacterial based systems. The group’s expertise includes design and construction of microbial-based sensors of diverse chemicals, groups of chemicals, or stress factors and integration of these bacterial reporters into varied hardware platforms for diverse applications.