Pathogen Detection

Portable sensors for pathogen detection

Prof. Aaron Timperman, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Large improvements in current sensors systems for the rapid detection of pathogens, such as harmful bacteria and viruses are needed.  These improved sensors are needed for many applications, including medical diagnostics, water quality testing, food testing, and detection of biological warfare agents.  Current sensor systems range from larger lab-based systems to smaller human-portable systems that can be carried into the field.  Current systems function based on genomic methods, or by selective recognition with biomolecules such as antibodies.  Genomic methods require cell lysis and substantial sample preparation making them fairly slow.  Additionally, genomic sensor systems are capable of detecting only a few pathogens.  Selective recognition approaches do not require cell lysis and are faster, but cross-reactivity of the antibodies often results in reduced selectivity.

In this project, the REU student will have the opportunity to aid in the development of a new approach to pathogen detection that augments antibody based methods with physical characterization of the bacteria or virus particle.  Note that non-harmful bacteria and viruses will be used in the REU research program.  The physical characterization will provide information of the charge, size, and shape of the pathogens that will greatly enhance the selectivity of the analysis in a rapid, field portable format.  The REU student will have the opportunity to gain experience with microfluidics, optical microscopy, and construction of the computer automated instrument control system.