Synthetic biosensors: Engineered plants could detect flu viruses and crop pests before they become global problems

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Credit:Credit: PlantVine

You’ve felt sick ever since you started working in a different office …. but building management can’t find the source of the problem. Eventually …. a leak in the bathroom leads to the discovery of black mold …. But what if the issue could have been detected long before employees became sick?

While currently science fiction, that scenario could eventually become a reality thanks to research being done at the Center for Agricultural Synthetic Biology (CASB) in the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture.

…. CASB’s current work is focused on phytosensors—plants that are used as biosensors for a variety of applications. In addition to warning homeowners of contaminants in their living space, these sensors could also warn farmers of a pathogen in a specific area of their fields or detect MRSA or influenza in a hospital setting, giving people time to mitigate or solve these issues before they become major problems.

Related article:  Viewpoint: To feed the world with minimal environmental impact, we can't rely on organic farming

[P]hytosensors may not be able to match the detection level a smoke detector can provide, [but] they have the potential to remove the compound from the environment by filtering or chemical conversion ….

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