Sensors Development

Example of an optical biosensor using a gold surface to bind peptide nucleic acid. (From Bratcher et al, 2009)

Another area of our active research is in the development of biosensors. Biosensors are designed to detect a biological element either directly or indirectly by measuring an electrical signal due to a change in a physical or chemical property. Biosensors have many applications such as environmental monitoring, genomics, food safety, terrorism, and human and animal diagnostics. While there are other methods of detection currently being used in these areas, biosensors offer the advantage of being highly selective, and thus powerful tools of detection.

Biosensors can utilize various detection methods including optical (e.g. surface plasmon resonance or fluorescence), electromechanical (e.g. cantilevers), or electrochemical (e.g. conductivity). However, they all must incorporate three features to be considered a biosensor: a recognition element, a method of signal transduction, and steps of data collection, processing, and analysis.

In our lab we are developing biosensors to directly detect multiple species of the toxin-producing marine dinoflagellete Alexandrium (see algal bloom detection project) and the potato wart fungus Synchytrium endobioticum (see potato wart detection) with minimal sample purification and no PCR amplification steps. We are interested in using biosensors as a field-based detection method due to the portability, shortened assay time, and cost-savings associated these methods. To learn more about these applications check out the individual project pages linked above.


Sensors Development Projects:


The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute recently achieves autonomous detection of a harmful algal bloom.

Relevant Literature:

  1. Bratcher, Amber R., Laurie B. Connell, Rosemary L. Smith. (2009) "Development of a direct detection method for Alexandrium spp. using surface plasmon resonance and peptide nucleic acid probes." The Eighth IEEE Conference on Sensors; 1196-1199.
©  2012, Laurie Connell - University of Maine - A Member of the University of Maine System