Microbial whole-cell biosensors: Current applications, challenges, and future perspectives

Michael Moraskie, Md Harun Or Roshid, Gregory O'Connor, Emre Dikici, Jean Marc Zingg, Sapna Deo, Sylvia Daunert

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Microbial Whole-Cell Biosensors (MWCBs) have seen rapid development with the arrival of 21st century biological and technological capabilities. They consist of microbial species which produce, or limit the production of, a reporter protein in the presence of a target analyte. The quantifiable signal from the reporter protein can be used to determine the bioavailable levels of the target analyte in a variety of sample types at a significantly lower cost than most widely used and well-established analytical instrumentation. Furthermore, the versatile and robust nature of MWCBs shows great potential for their use in otherwise unavailable settings and environments. While MWCBs have been developed for use in biomedical, environmental, and agricultural monitoring, they still face various challenges before they can transition from the laboratory into industrialized settings like their enzyme-based counterparts. In this comprehensive and critical review, we describe the underlying working principles of MWCBs, highlight developments for their use in a variety of fields, detail challenges and current efforts to address them, and discuss exciting implementations of MWCBs helping redefine what is thought to be possible with this expeditiously evolving technology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113359
JournalBiosensors and Bioelectronics
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021


  • Biomedical diagnostics
  • Environmental and agricultural monitoring
  • Living cells
  • Microbial whole-cell biosensor
  • Reporter protein
  • Synthetic biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Electrochemistry


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