Pond at Jerusalem Botanic Gardens
Pond at Jerusalem Botanic GardensIsrael news photo: Hana Levi Julian

Scientists from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a biological sensor that can detect toxic chemicals.

Professor Yosi Shacham-Diamand, Vice Dean of TAU's Faculty of Engineering and Professor Shimshon Belkin of the Institute of Life Sciences at HU called the new biosensor device a “dip chip.”

The research has been published in Electrochimica Acta and Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical, among other journals.

The device contains microbes designed to exhibit a biological reaction to toxic chemicals in much the same way that humans or animals do.

The chips are based on genetically modified microbes that were developed in Belkin's laboratory. When exposed to toxic or poisonous materials, they produce a measurable biochemical reaction, which is then converted into an electronic signal that can be interpreted by a device as “toxic” or “not toxic.”

Eventually, said Shacham-Diamand, such a chip might be plugged into a mobile device to be used to measure toxicity in one's personal environment.

The Dip Chip is deisgned to alert the user to overall toxicity, the scientist said. Eventually, it might also be used in the cosmetics or pharmaceutical industry. It could be used to detect the toxicity of new compounds, thus minimizing the use of experimental laboratory  animals.

Using the same technology, the researchers also created a larger device to monitor for toxicity in flowing water supplies.