A biosensing device produced in such a way would enable both the monitoring and regulation of physiological processes and the development of new analytical tools. (Credit: ACS Synth. Biol.)

A synthetic biosensor that mimics properties found in cell membranes and provides an electronic readout of activity could lead to a better understanding of cell biology, development of new drugs, and the creation of sensory organs on a chip capable of detecting chemicals, similar to how noses and tongues work.

The biosensor uses synthetic biology to re-create a cell membrane and its embedded proteins, which are gatekeepers of cellular functions. A conducting sensing platform allows for an electronic readout when a protein is activated. Being able to test if and how a molecule reacts with proteins in a cell membrane could generate a great many applications.

It starts with a conducting polymer, which is soft and easy to work with, on top of a support that together act as an electric circuit that is monitored by a computer. A layer of lipid (fat) molecules, which forms the membrane, lies on top of the polymer, and the proteins of interest are placed within the lipids.

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