Our CYBERNOSE® biosensors mimic the sophisticated smell receptors of simple animals to detect and measure odours and chemicals in a range of substances.

The challenge

Making sense of smell

One of the key features of an insect or animal’s nose is how sensitive it is. Dogs can detect things that may have been present and then removed, just by the trace smells left over.

Likewise, by mimicking the sophisticated smell receptors of nematode worms, we can detect and measure odours and chemicals in a range of substances.

Our response

Smell receptors and the CYBERNOSE® device

Nematode worms have smell receptors that are similar to those in human noses. By using DNA from nematode worms, we have been able to make sensors in the lab and put them into the electronic device known as the CYBERNOSE® sensor. This will replace the current generation of solid-state sensors that don’t perform as well.

The receptors work by changing shape when an odour molecule binds to them. Our scientists re-engineered these smell receptors so that they emit a mixture of blue and green light. It’s this change of light that is at the heart of the CYBERNOSE® sensor.

When an odour binds to the sensor and it changes shape, the colour of the light changes, which is easy to see and importantly, measure. The detailed analysis of the light, using optical sensors, can indicate whether a particular substance is in the test sample.

The results

Industry applications

The CYBERNOSE® biosensor technology has a range of applications:

  • The device will help food and beverage manufacturers match the taste and aroma of foods to their specifications, to verify the provenance and authenticity of foods and beverages, and to monitor the raw ingredients that give food and drink their appeal. It will also help in the checking of food safety and quality, such as for detecting toxins or contaminants
  • The technology could enhance Australia's border protection, law enforcement, emergency management and defence efforts by helping to detect and intercept explosives, toxic chemicals or contraband.
  • Being able to rapidly diagnose infectious diseases more efficiently through detecting odours, rather than using more invasive methods, is an attractive potential application of this technology. In the future it is hoped the technique could also be applied to the diagnosis of non-infectious diseases.
  • We are currently working to detect the telltale smell of insect contamination in grain, while future projects will address the detection of other pests, weeds or diseases in commodities. We are also researching the molecular basis of olfaction in insects.
  • Better detection and management of fluctuations in low level greenhouse gases is a current focus of research and it is expected that similar technology may also be applied to monitor indoor air quality.
  • CYBERNOSE® technology has applications for in-line monitoring of a very wide range of industrial processes that involve chemical or biological transformations.

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