A Whole-Cell Biosensor for Point-of-Care Detection of Waterborne Bacterial Pathogens

Ying Wu, Chien Wei Wang, Dong Wang, Na Wei

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Water contamination by pathogenic bacteria is a major public health concern globally. Monitoring bacterial contamination in water is critically important to protect human health, but this remains a critical challenge. Engineered whole-cell biosensors created through synthetic biology hold great promise for rapid and cost-effective detection of waterborne pathogens. In this study, we created a novel whole-cell biosensor to detect water contamination by Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia pseudomallei, which are two critical bacterial pathogens and are recognized as common causative agents for waterborne diseases. The biosensor detects the target bacterial pathogens by responding to the relevant quorum sensing signal molecules. Particularly, this study constructed and characterized the biosensor on the basis of the QscR quorum sensing signal system for the first time. We first designed and constructed a QscR on the basis of the sensing module in the E. coli host cell and integrated the QscR sensing module with a reporting module that expressed an enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP). The results demonstrated that the biosensor had high sensitivity in response to the quorum sensing signals of the target bacterial pathogens. We further engineered a biosensor that expressed a red pigment lycopene in the reporting module to produce a visible signal readout for the pathogen detection. Additionally, we investigated the feasibility of a paper-based assay by immobilizing the lycopene-based whole-cell biosensor on paper with the aim to build a prototype for developing portable detection devices. The biosensor would provide a simple and inexpensive alternative for timely and point-of-care detection of water contamination and protect human health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-344
Number of pages12
JournalACS synthetic biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 19 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • quorum sensing
  • synthetic biology
  • waterborne bacterial pathogens
  • whole-cell biosensor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)


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