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From Oak Ridge National Laboratory...

Critters on a Chip

(or what is the HBM for bacteria?)

By: Elizabeth Nelson

Many exciting developments are taking place at the former top-secret nuclear plant in Oak Ridge, TN. One of the most innovative is 'Critters on a Chip.'

Mike Simpson has developed an amazing part-living, part-silicon chip that can detect pollutants, explosives, and various chemicals in water and soil. Critters on a Chip (2 millimeters x 2 millimeters) consists of living sensors (including bioluminescent bacteria) placed on a standard integrated circuit. We wonder if Dr. Simpson has ran ESD characterization tests on his bacteria.

When pollutants, explosives, or other targeted substances get close to the chip, the bioluminescent bacteria emits a blue-green light. The chip may also be used to transmits signals to computers which is helpful in medial disgnostics and industrial process monitors. Simpson explains "Because the integrated circuits are small, low-power, rugged and can be made wireless, they can be placed in areas other devices cannot."

Many times biological signals are extremely faint. Sometimes, medical professionals have trouble reading a person's blood type, and other vital signs. Current tests to determine Rh factors in blood, presence of HIV, and chemical signatures of heart attacks can be life-threateningly slow. Because of this need, scientists have been trying to develop a microcircuit that is able to better detect these molecules since the 1970's. However, it is very difficult to mix microchips and liquids. When a mix is created, it is usually too expensive or not flexible enough to use bor drugs and viruses.

The critters on a chip could replace today's bulky, expensive and complicated optical detection systems that use photo multipliers and optical fibers buried in the ground. It could also allow for more extensive monitoring of a remediation site with no increase in cost.

The sensor that has been unveiled by Oak Ridge National Laboratory inventors uses a genetically engineered bacterium known as Pseudomonas fluorescens HK 44. This solution is extremely sensitive to the common petroleum pollutant naphthalene. This is useful for monitoring hazardous waste sites.

The product is expected to be reasonably priced under $1 and disposable. Unfortunately, there is a downside to Critters on a Chip. The bacteria that live on the circuit need food and it is possible for the bacteria to die and/or mutate. This will inevitably lead to experation dates on the chips.

It is still unknown when Critters on a Chip can be expected on the market.







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