Sample In – Answer Out Optochemical Sensing Systems (SAMOSS)

The need for environmental, food and biomedical sensing and monitoring is constantly growing, and encompasses the most basic aspects of our lives, such as atmosphere, drinking water, food and beverages, agricultural products, and healthcare. The ideal technological solution would be small, cheap and autonomous devices and that continuously or on demand report on their findings, with minimal human intervention. Such devices should ideally detect a multitude of threats, chemical and/or biological, and should thus be able to describe complex environments to a data collection and analysis centre. Biosensors, and specifically arrayed biosensors could, in principle, perform such tasks, however it is a fact that such autonomous devices to date do not exist on the market.

In the SAMOSS network our overall objective is to develop optochemical sensors, applied to detect relevant analytes such as mycotoxins or antibiotics in foods, drugs in healthcare and endocrine disruptors such as contraceptive hormones in environmental samples, that are able to handle a chain of operations that should constitute an autonomous process starting with a sample and ending with reporting a result as an "answer".


Schematic description of a "sample-in-answer-out" process. read more

"Steps (1) and (2) need to be performed by a sample handling unit that prepares the sample in a way the sensing unit is requiring it. Presently these stages often are performed manually. Then the sensing elements are exposed to the pre-processed sample in step (3). This stage typically includes a series of operations such as blocking, washing, incubation with the sample and washing of excess sample, addition of labelling reagents and another washing step. These steps are performed manually using additional pieces of equipment, sometimes even large and heavy such as incubators or mixers. In the next step (4), reading of the resulting signal is performed on one or more dedicated detectors. Analysis of the results (5) is typically done offline, on a personal computer (by a trained operator), and the transmission of the results (6) is also carried out manually. All these steps (1 - 6) will be automated and combined in sensing systems allowing a fast and easy "Sample In – Answer Out" analysis developed by the use of technologies such as microfluidics, miniaturisation, natural and synthetic recognition elements, sensitivity enhancement strategies (e.g. single photon counting, plasmonic enhancement, catalytic or enzymatic amplification of the signal) for optical detection.

The choice of optical signal transduction schemes has been guided by the fact that optochemical methods are potentially very sensitive, particularly well-suited for the integration in miniaturised devices, for multiplexed measurements of a range of analytes. To realise sensing and monitoring devices as described above, all these functions need to be performed autonomously, on one platform that is small and cheap enough to be replicated in multiple copies and deployed for use on-site in different environments. The scientific and technological challenges in realizing this goal pertain to many different disciplines such as micro and nanofabrication, biosensing, analytical chemistry and reference methods, materials characterisation, cell culture, receptor development/selection, system integration and data processing.

The SAMOSS consortium will perform the complex task of directing and conducting research and development in this large number of disciplines, and educate a new generation of multidisciplinary scientists, with a broad view and understanding of the multi-facetted aspects. Critical challenges tackled in the objectives include multianalyte detection and monitoring; micro-macro system integration; realisation of lab-on-chip and real samples.

SAMOSS targets three of the most relevant application fields:

  1. Food analysis as an area characterized by a constantly growing market. The use of biosensors for food quality and safety is very limited, although the increasing awareness of the consumer and the increasing popularity of "organic" or "bio" labelled products are important driving forces.
  2. Biomedical analysis drives an increase in R&D activities for developing biosensors, which have the potential to provide highly accurate real-time biomedical diagnosis and drug monitoring during treatment.
  3. Environmental monitoring of pollutants especially in water aiming at improving the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the properties of chemical substances.