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Biomimetic Colorimetric Sensors


Detecting and analyzing:



Seung-Wuk Lee, Jin-Woo Oh, and Woo-Jae Chung of Berkeley Lab have developed a biomimetic, virus-based colorimetric sensor for the detection and analysis of various materials or substances, especially those that might endanger human health or national security.

Colorimetric sensors — sensors that change color when they are exposed to a particular substance — are useful for their portability and affordability. Recent developments in more sophisticated colorimetric sensors have been driven by the need for multi-analyte array-based sensors, particularly in the area of biosensing, and the trend toward sensor networks. However, current colorimetric sensors cannot satisfy this need because they respond only to a limited number of materials. To overcome the challenges of current technologies, the Berkeley Lab researchers engineered a virus-based colorimetric sensor that can detect any target material as well as multiple targets.

The Berkeley Lab researchers employed phage display and genetic engineering to fabricate a unique film that induces coherent scattering of visible light. When used as a sensor, the invention exhibits distinct color changes in response to various kinds of gas and liquid materials. Unlike previous colorimetric sensors, the Berkeley Lab invention’s small size (below 6x1 mm) can form an array, or a kit, of multiple sensors that identify various substances. In addition to offering fast and accurate on-site and in situ analyses, the invention’s multicolor recognition pattern system is compatible with any handheld device such as a smartphone or tablet.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE:  Proven principle. The researchers have established a manufacturing process to grow the uniform colorimetric films using engineered M13 bacteriophage. They have also established the color analysis software or algorithm using computer, smartphone (iOS or Androids) or tablets.

STATUS:  Patent pending.  Available for licensing or collaborative research.


Oh, J.-W., Chung, W.-J., Heo, K., Jin, H.-E., Lee, B. Y., Wang, E., Zueger, C., Wong, W., Meyer, J., Kim, C., Lee, S.-Y., Kim, W.-G., Zemla, M., Auer, M., Hexemer, A., Lee, S.-W., “Biomimetic virus-based colourimetric sensors,” Nature Communications, 5:3043, published Jan. 21, 2014, DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4043


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