Scientists have developed live sensors based on luminous algae

(ORDO NEWS) — American developers demonstrated a prototype of a device that allows recording mechanical deformations. The plankton living in it luminesces in response to the voltage that has arisen, and recharges itself in the light.

Dinoflagellates are a group of single-celled photosynthetic organisms that use a single eye and a pair of flagella to detect light and move towards it. These are one of the main representatives of marine phytoplankton – from tropical to polar waters.

Many species are capable of bioluminescence stimulated by the movement of water. Having felt it, whole clusters of dinoflagellates illuminate the waves of the surf or remain behind a ship that has passed into the sea.

Such a reaction is associated with the response of cells to mechanical stress, and a team of scientists from the University of California at San Diego decided to use this feature of dinoflagellates to create new “natural” biosensors.

The prototype includes living cells enclosed in a transparent flexible shell, and lights up when it feels stretched, compressed or flexed.

After consulting with biologists, the scientists selected Pyrocystis lunula dinoflagellates by placing them in airtight elastic shells of various shapes.

To enhance the mechanical stress experienced by the cells, small protrusions were made on the inner surface of the shell, which enhance the flow of water during deformation.

Thanks to this, the authors managed to obtain prototypes of biosensors that literally light up at the slightest touch. Scientists have also demonstrated that magnets can be placed inside the device, and then under the influence of an external field they move – and glow.

The elastic polymer polydimethylsiloxane was used as the shells. The material was made on a matrix with microscopic pores made using a laser, so he also retained these pores. They trap cells and large biomolecules, but ensure the exchange of oxygen and other gases.

Thanks to this, the dinoflagellates inside the device remain alive, and for “recharging” it is enough for them to stay in the light. Photosynthesis will help restore the resources spent on luminescence.

Otherwise, the created prototypes are extremely simple and do not require any maintenance. “We bring the culture in, and that’s where it ends,” says Prof. Tsai.

“While they are charging in the sun, they can be used over and over again for at least a month. No need to update the solution and so on. Each device is a small living ecosystem.”

Now scientists are planning to improve the prototypes – in particular, to obtain such a structure so that living cells can integrate directly into it. This will make the devices more reliable and versatile.

Someday in the future, they may find applications, for example, in ocean monitoring systems, underwater robots, or simply provide illumination without requiring electricity.

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