Microorganism-based Biosensor – Microbials 2016


Für den Inhalt der Angaben zeichnet die Projektleitung verantwortlich.


This project is one of the five winners of the call 2016 «Microbials – Direct Use of Micro-Organisms».

Project partners: ETH Zurich


Projekt-Nr.: GRS-056/16
Förderbeitrag: CHF 450'000
davon Löhne: CHF 380'000
Bewilligung: 02.11.2016
Dauer: 01.2017 - 12.2019
Handlungsfeld: Microbials, seit 2016

Microbial Treatment of Solid Tumors – Microbials 2016
Projekt nummerGRS-059/16 BudgetCHF 400'000 VerantwortlichSimon Ittig Laufzeit01.2017 - 12.2018

Effector delivery by Contractile Injection Machines – Microbials 2016
Projekt nummerGRS-058/16 BudgetCHF 352'000 VerantwortlichMartin Pilhofer Laufzeit01.2017 - 12.2019

A Specific Mechanosensitive Bacterial Tumor Therapy – Microbials 2016
Projekt nummerGRS-057/16 BudgetCHF 374'000 VerantwortlichAlexandre Persat Laufzeit05.2017 - 04.2020

Microorganism-based Biosensor – Microbials 2016
Projekt nummerGRS-056/16 BudgetCHF 450'000 VerantwortlichJan Wendelin Stark Laufzeit01.2017 - 12.2019

Therapeutic Fungi – Microbials 2016
Projekt nummerGRS-055/16 BudgetCHF 480'000 VerantwortlichBenjamin Marsland Laufzeit01.2017 - 01.2020


Prof. Dr. Jan Wendelin Stark, ETH Zurich, Dept of Chemistry and Applied Sciences, HCI E 107, Vladimir-Prelog-Weg 1, 8093 Zürich (Schweiz), wendelin.notexisting@nodomain.comstark@chem.notexisting@nodomain.comethz.notexisting@nodomain.comch


Microorganisms are very good at sensing their environment – can we use this capability in a technical or medical sensor? In this project, we intent to build a biosensor platform based on so called living materials, i.e. combinations of materials and organisms, accessible to a sampling area or liquid. The central element is an enclosed, optionally genetically engineered microorganisms. They cannot escape the material, but are still able to communicate with their environment (e.g. sensing and quantifying analytes). In a second part, the sensor platform shall be implemented as an easy, user-friendly readout device.

Our concept of living material was inspired by natural living surfaces such as lichens, and bacterial or fungal biofilms and further developed by adding the sensing function. We have already shown that oligosaccharides (e.g., lactose, galactose) in complex samples can be quantified based in such systems. Minimal equipment requirements and availability to untrained users outside of a laboratory environment make such systems attractive for developing countries.

The objective of this project is to build an inexpensive and fast microorganism-based biosensor platform and additionally tackle questions of storability, biosafety, multiplexing and experimenting with different organisms and reporter systems.

Was ist das Besondere an diesem Projekt?

Generally the project aims at an easy use of optionally genetically modified microorganisms to enable an untrained user to exploit their enormous sensing capabilities. Analysis tasks could for example involve the assessment of water and soil quality and food contamination within a complex sample.

Transfer into the market: We intend to rapidly test suitable prototypes for real world applications and target two types of markets, both with very different constraints.

(A) This project aims at developing biosensors for applications in the developing world, where conventional, capital-intensive instrumentation is unavailable, or not accessible (remote areas). Here, complex decisions (e.g. identification of a specific type of mold affecting a crop and decision on best treatment options) are made accessible to the untrained user (e.g. a local farmer) at nearly zero additional costs. Ownership of the test microorganism is then also foreseen to permit local manufacturing of such sensor systems.

(B) This project also aims at providing microorganism-based complex sensing capability for applications in the developed world. Here, the current restrictions in using genetically engineered microorganisms may be addressed through finding suitable wild type microorganisms for a given sensing task. The use of crowdfunding is anticipated to test the acceptability of such biosensors. For application in the developed world, the sensor has to compete with logistic-intense field sampling, shipment and high-tech analysis in dedicated centers, offered through for-profit organizations.

Recent work in the field of whole-cell biosensors will be considered and integrated into the new biosensor platform. Innovation comes by combining established biotechnological platforms with modern engineering and cutting edge product development tools resulting in an integrated system.


Previous work of our group has resulted in the creation of a proof of concept living material, which was later modified to possess sensor properties. Oligosaccharide concentrations in a complex sample could be quantified based on diffusion distance in a hydrogel system. This previous work is the starting point of the project described here. The described living material with sensor properties will be validated and optimized as a sensor chip in a new format with a prototype for the readout system. We foresee these first milestones to be achieved within 2017. Complex sensor applications, multiplexing and the transition to a universal user platform will begin in 2018.


Programmable living material containing reporter micro-organisms permits quantitative detection of oligosaccharides, Biomaterials, 2015
Incorporating microorganisms into polymer layers provides bioinspired functional living materials, PNAS, 2012; featured as Editor’s Choice: Carnivorous Cloth, Science, January 20th 2012, Vol. 335, Issue 6066, pp. 264.
Incorporation of Penicillin-Producing Fungi into Living Materials to Provide Chemically Active and Antibiotic-Releasing Surfaces, Angewandte Chemie, 2012; featured in Nature Chemistry, 4, 960, 2012.


Functional Materials Laboratory, ETH Zürich

Am Projekt beteiligte Personen

Wendelin Stark, Projektleiter, full professor ETH Zürich
Nadine Lobsiger, PhD student
Konstantin Schulz-Schönhagen, PhD student

Letzte Aktualisierung dieser Projektdarstellung