Understanding and engineering microbial sensors

Gerth ML

Victoria University of Wellington, School of Biological Sciences, New Zealand.

Bacterial chemoreceptors are remarkable examples of biological sensors: they can detect chemicals at nanomolar concentrations and discriminate between closely related molecules. They play a central role in chemotaxis, allowing bacteria to detect chemical gradients and bias their swimming behaviour in order to navigate towards favourable environments. There are thousands of putative chemoreceptor genes in bacterial genomes, but for the vast majority, neither what they detect nor how they detect it is understood. These chemoreceptors represent a (largely untapped) source of modular parts for molecular devices. In my laboratory, we are exploring the functional and structural diversity of chemoreceptors. We are also engineering receptors with novel sensing capabilities. Ultimately, our goal is to incorporate these modular domains into handle-held biosensor devices for applications in a variety of industries.