Synthetic biology-enabled new generation biosensors for global health and environment challenges

Supervisors: Baojun Wang, Till Bachmann

Project description:

The traditional laboratory-based analytical assays for bacterial pathogens and environmental toxins are expensive, time consuming and normally require specialised personnel and complex equipment. This restricts their use in resource limited areas and developing countries where lack sufficient skilled personnel and healthcare facilities to rapidly identify the risks. There is therefore an urgent need to provide simple cost effective, fast on-site sensing solutions for pathogens (e.g. diarrhea related Shigella flexneri) and toxins (e.g. arsenic or pesticides in contaminated drinking water) associated with fatal bacterial infections and contaminated water or land resources.        

This project aims to use innovative synthetic biology approaches to develop new generation biosensors to address these daunting global health and environmental challenges. In particular, we will develop robust, fast, inexpensive and portable cell-free/paper-based biosensors that are readily deployable in the field with minimal human intervention and/or resources. The project is based on our prior ample experience and expertise in engineering synthetic cell-based biosensors for environmental toxins and pathogens with programmable sensitivity and selectivity. Advanced signal processing and amplifying gene networks may be used within these sensor circuits to substantially boost sensor sensitivity to fulfil their real world detection requirement. Novel encapsulation and packaging methods will also be developed to significantly increase the robustness, stability and shelf life of the resulting sensors. The technology and approaches developed will find diverse applications in environmental, biotechnological and medical settings.       

The project will provide you a comprehensive training of advanced molecular and genetic tools, innovative microbiology and bioelectronics techniques and computational modelling skills. This project will be jointly supervised by Dr. Baojun Wang at the Centre of Synthetic and Systems Biology and Dr Till Bachmann at the Division of Infection and Pathway Medicine giving the student a true inter-disciplinary research experience in the fields of synthetic biology and global health. The student will also have the opportunity to work with and spend an internship with the project industrial partner.


1. Slomovic et al. (2015) “Synthetic biology devices for in vitro and in vivo diagnostics”, PNAS, 112:14429–14435

2. Wang et al. (2013) “A modular cell-based biosensor using engineered genetic logic circuits to detect and integrate multiple environmental signals”, Biosensors & Bioelectronics, 40:368-376.

3. Wang et al, “Engineering modular and tunable genetic amplifiers for scaling transcriptional signals in cascaded gene networks”, Nucleic Acids Research, 2014, 42:9484-92