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Scientists Create Biosensor Machine That Can Smell Better Than Humans

Scientists Create Biosensor Machine That Can Smell Better Than Humans

by Clay Michael GillespieJanuary 21, 2015

A collaboration of scientists and academics from the University of Manchester, England, and the University of Bari, Italy, have made a breakthrough in biosensor research recently. According to a report published in the Nature Communications journal, they’ve created a machine that can smell better than humans.

Every scent and odor are made up with specific patterns that the human nose differentiates. When people smell lavender, they’re able to distinguish it from the smell of deviled eggs. By using a combination of proteins, also known as odorant binding proteins, and coupling them with transistors, the machine can differentiate the different smells better than the human nose.

It has been challenging to get machines to be able to differentiate between smells that are mirror images of each other, which was a real barrier to creating machines which are able to smell as well or better than humans,

said Professor Krishna Persaud, lead author of the research paper.

The Real-World Potential for the Biosensor Machine

bioThe report is a breakthrough for the biosensor technology industry, although its incredibly dense in scientific language.

“Peripheral events in olfaction involve odorant binding proteins (OBPs) whose role in the recognition of different volatile chemicals is yet unclear,” the report states.

Here’s where the language gets thick though,

Here we report on the sensitive and quantitative measurement of the weak interactions associated with neutral enantiomers differentially binding to OBPs immobilized through a self-assembled monolayer to the gate of an organic bio-electronic transistor.

The machine can distinguish between two smells that are technically mirror images of each other, also known as chiral molecules.  Prior to this development, previously invented machines were not able to match this feat.

This development may allow for more sophisticated biosensors to emerge. But what’s the real world application, looking forward to the future? Well, these machines may be able to detect certain scents that are undesirable under certain laws, like marijuana in the proximity in a place that’s outlawed its use. Furthermore, it may have uses in food production factories to tell if the products are spoiled prior to shipping.

Now we have done this it will allow much better sensors to be developed and these could have many uses in industry. We shall be able to create biosensors which are accurate enough to be able to tell when food has gone off, or even smell how much pollution is in the atmosphere,

Persaud said.

While incredibly sensitive, it looks like the research is there to be expanded on and refined for future projects. The machine may not be able to smell in the practical, human-associated definition, but it functions and processes the information better than we can.

Images from Shutterstock.

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