Editorial Feature

The Role of Biosensors in Food Safety Applications

Biosensors are analytical devices that combine a biological component with a physicochemical detector to measure a variety of analytes. In the field of food safety, these tools are essential for detecting pathogens, toxins, and contaminants that pose a threat to public health.

The Role of Biosensors in Food Safety Applications

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The development of biosensors has been driven by the need for fast, accurate, and on-site testing methods that diverge from traditional, time-consuming laboratory techniques. Progress in nanotechnology, materials science, and biotechnology has significantly enhanced the sensitivity, specificity, and functionality of biosensors.

This article explores the principles and evolution of biosensor technology and also offers insights into the latest advancements in biosensors designed to enhance food safety.

Evolution of Biosensor Technology

The development of the first biosensor began back in the 1960s with the creation of enzyme electrodes by Leland C. Clark. These early biosensors primarily used enzymes as the biological sensing element, initially focusing on glucose monitoring for managing diabetes. In the 1980s and 1990s, antibodies and nucleic acids were incorporated, broadening the range of detectable analytes.1

Advances in nanotechnology in the 2000s improved the sensitivity and miniaturization of biosensors by integrating nanomaterials such as gold nanoparticles and carbon nanotubes. This led to lower detection limits and faster response times, making biosensors more effective for real-time monitoring.1

In recent years, biosensors have evolved to incorporate microfluidics, enabling the handling of small sample volumes and integration with portable devices. This has allowed for the simultaneous detection of multiple analytes, further enhancing the versatility and application of biosensors in food safety.1

The Science Behind Biosensors

Biosensors for food safety rely on biological recognition elements such as enzymes or antibodies to selectively detect pathogens and contaminants. These elements bind to target analytes, triggering transduction mechanisms such as optical or electrochemical signals.

Signal amplification methods are employed to enhance sensitivity, and the integration of microfluidics and nanotechnology enables swift and automated detection. By leveraging these principles, biosensors provide rapid, sensitive, and on-site detection of foodborne hazards, thereby ensuring the safety and quality of food products.2

More on Biosensors: The Benefits 2D Materials Could Bring to Biosensors

Advances in Pathogen Detection

Recent studies have highlighted significant progress in biosensors designed for pathogen detection in food. For instance, a recent study demonstrated the use of a graphene-based field-effect transistor (GFET) biosensor for rapid detection of Escherichia coli in food samples. This biosensor utilizes the unique electrical properties of graphene, combined with specific aptamers that bind to Escherichia coli, providing a highly sensitive and rapid detection method.3

Another innovative approach involves the use of magnetic nanoparticles combined with microfluidic chips to separate and concentrate pathogens from food samples before detection. The magnetic nanoparticles are coated with antibodies specific to the target pathogen, such as Salmonella or Listeria.

When the food sample is introduced, the pathogens bind to the nanoparticles. The microfluidic chip then uses magnetic fields to isolate these nanoparticle-pathogen complexes. This method enhances the sensitivity and reduces the detection time to a few minutes.4

Advancements in clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-based biosensors have created new opportunities for pathogen detection. CRISPR, known for its gene-editing capabilities, can be used to detect specific deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA) sequences from pathogens. A recent JAFC study showcased a CRISPR-based biosensor capable of accurately detecting norovirus in contaminated water, highlighting its potential for wider applications in food safety.5

In another recent study, metal-organic nanohybrids (NHs) were utilized to simultaneously detect enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus in real samples within minutes. These NHs were composed of small metal nanoparticles encapsulated within a conductive polymer matrix, which served as sensitive electrochemical labels due to their distinct oxidation current responses. Antibodies incorporated into these NHs target specific bacteria, allowing for rapid electrochemical measurement using screen-printed electrodes with NH-labeled bacterial cells.6

Detection of Toxins and Chemical Contaminants

Biosensors have also made significant progress in detecting toxins and chemical contaminants. Recently, researchers demonstrated an electrochemical biosensor using gold nanoparticles and a specific enzyme to detect aflatoxins in food. Aflatoxins, produced by certain fungi, pose significant health risks, and their rapid detection is crucial. The developed biosensor exhibited high sensitivity and could detect aflatoxins at levels well below the regulatory limits.7

Another notable development is the creation of a paper-based biosensor for pesticide detection. This biosensor utilizes colorimetric detection, making it inexpensive, portable, and user-friendly. It is suitable for on-site testing by non-specialists. The color change on the paper indicates the presence of pesticides, providing a quick and visual detection method.8

Innovations in Multiplexed Detection

Multiplexed detection capabilities are a significant advancement in biosensor technology. These biosensors can simultaneously detect multiple pathogens or contaminants, saving time and resources.

A recent innovation involves the integration of DNA microarray technology with biosensors, allowing for the simultaneous detection of multiple DNA sequences associated with different pathogens or toxins. Such multiplexed biosensors are particularly valuable in complex food matrices where multiple contaminants might be present.9

Integration with Digital Technologies

The integration of biosensors with digital technologies has opened new avenues for food safety monitoring. Smart biosensors with wireless communication capabilities can send data to smartphones or cloud-based systems, allowing real-time monitoring and data analysis.

Scientists have developed a smart biosensor that works with a smartphone app to identify Salmonella in food samples. This system not only detects the bacteria quickly but also stores and analyzes data, providing a comprehensive solution for managing food safety.10

Moreover, the advent of Internet of Things (IoT) technology has facilitated the development of interconnected biosensor networks. These networks can monitor various points in the food supply chain, ensuring continuous surveillance and rapid response to contamination events. IoT-enabled biosensors offer significant benefits to large-scale food producers and distributors by providing a scalable solution for upholding food safety.11

Advances in Environmental Monitoring for Food Safety

Recent developments have also focused on the environmental aspects of food safety. Environmental monitoring through the use of biosensors can identify contamination in water, soil, and air, which are crucial elements of the agricultural and food production cycle.

Recent studies have demonstrated biosensors with the ability to detect heavy metals and pesticide residues in irrigation water. These sensors employ electrochemical detection methods to offer real-time monitoring of water quality, ensuring the use of only safe water in food production.12

Another innovative approach involves the use of biosensors to detect spoilage indicators in the food storage environment. For instance, biosensors capable of monitoring ethylene gas levels can signal the ripening and spoilage stages of fruits and vegetables. This technology enables more effective inventory management and reduces food waste by providing continuous monitoring and alert systems.13

Regulatory and Industry Adoption

Regulatory frameworks are increasingly supporting the adoption of biosensor technology in the food industry. Regulatory agencies recognize the importance of rapid and accurate food safety testing and are developing guidelines to standardize the use of biosensors.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have initiated programs to evaluate and integrate biosensor technologies in routine food safety inspections.

Industry adoption has also been on the rise, with food producers and processors investing in biosensor technologies to comply with safety standards and improve product quality. Companies are integrating biosensors into their quality control processes to ensure that their products are free from contaminants and meet regulatory requirements. The use of biosensors helps to maintain consumer trust and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Future Prospects and Conclusion

The future of biosensors for food safety looks promising, with ongoing research aimed at enhancing their sensitivity, specificity, and ease of use. Emerging technologies such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology, and machine learning are expected to play crucial roles in the next generation of biosensors.1

Moreover, synthetic biology could lead to the development of highly specific biological recognition elements, while machine learning algorithms could improve data analysis and interpretation. Additionally, the miniaturization of biosensors and the development of wearable biosensors could revolutionize on-site food safety testing, making it more accessible and practical for everyday use.11

In conclusion, biosensors have become vital tools in ensuring food safety, offering rapid, accurate, and on-site detection of pathogens, toxins, and contaminants. Recent advances in materials science, digital integration, and multiplexed detection have significantly improved their capabilities. As research continues to evolve, biosensors are expected to become even more sophisticated, providing robust solutions for maintaining food safety and protecting public health.

References and Further Reading

  1. K. Pakmode, P. C. Krishnamachary, T. Sultana, P. K. Pradhan, S. Chatterjee and A. Jana. (2023). Biosensors: Pioneering Progress in Sensing Technologies across Generations. International Conference on Sensing Technology (ICST), HYDERABAD, India, 2023, pp. 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1109/ICST59744.2023.10460789
  2. Marleny García Lozano, Yadira Peña García, Jose Alberto Silva Gonzalez, Cynthia Vanessa Ochoa Bañuelos, Miriam Paulina Luevanos Escareño, Nagamani Balagurusamy. (2019). Chapter 40 - Biosensors for Food Quality and Safety Monitoring: Fundamentals and Applications. Enzymes in Food Biotechnology. Academic Press, Pages 691-709. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-813280-7.00040-2
  3. Lin, Z., Wu, G., Zhao, L., & Lai, K. W. C. (2021). Detection of Bacterial Metabolic Volatile Indole Using a Graphene-Based Field-Effect Transistor Biosensor. Nanomaterials11(5), 1155. https://doi.org/10.3390/nano11051155
  4. Hao, L., Xue, L., Huang, F., Cai, G., Qi, W., Zhang, M., Han, Q., Wang, Z., & Lin, J. (2020). A Microfluidic Biosensor Based on Magnetic Nanoparticle Separation, Quantum Dots Labeling and MnO2 Nanoflower Amplification for Rapid and Sensitive Detection of Salmonella Typhimurium. Micromachines11(3), 281. https://doi.org/10.3390/mi11030281
  5. Wang, W., Wang, B., Li, Q., Tian, R., Lu, X., Peng, Y., Sun, J., Bai, J., Gao, Z., & Sun, X. (2024). Ultrasensitive Detection Strategy of Norovirus Based on a Dual Enhancement Strategy: CRISPR-Responsive Self-Assembled SNA and Isothermal Amplification. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistryhttps://doi.org/10.1021/acs.jafc.4c00557
  6. Itagaki, S., Nakao, A., Nakamura, S., Fujita, M., Nishii, S., Yamamoto, Y., Sadanaga, Y., & Shiigi, H. (2024). Simultaneous Electrochemical Detection of Multiple Bacterial Species Using Metal–Organic Nanohybrids. Analytical Chemistryhttps://doi.org/10.1021/acs.analchem.3c04587
  7. Althagafi, I. I., Ahmed, S. A., & El-Said, W. A. (2021). Colorimetric aflatoxins immunoassay by using silica nanoparticles decorated with gold nanoparticles. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy246, 118999. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.saa.2020.118999
  8. Bordbar, M.M., Nguyen, T.A., Arduini, F. et al. (2020)A paper-based colorimetric sensor array for discrimination and simultaneous determination of organophosphate and carbamate pesticides in tap water, apple juice, and rice. Microchim Acta 187, 621. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00604-020-04596-x
  9. Sultana, S., Azlan, A., Desa, M. N. M., & Mahyudin, N. A. (2023). Multiplex platforms in biosensor based analytical approaches: Opportunities and challenges for the speciation of animal species in food chain. Food Control149, 109727. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodcont.2023.109727
  10.  Khalaf, E. M., Sanaan Jabbar, H., Mireya Romero-Parra, R., Raheem Lateef Al-Awsi, G., Setia Budi, H., Altamimi, A. S., Abdulfadhil Gatea, M., Falih, K. T., Singh, K., & Alkhuzai, K. A. (2023). Smartphone-assisted microfluidic sensor as an intelligent device for on-site determination of food contaminants: developments and applications. Microchemical Journal, 108692. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.microc.2023.108692
  11.  Verma, D., Singh, K. R., Yadav, A. K., Nayak, V., Singh, J., Solanki, P. R., & Singh, R. P. (2022). Internet of things (IoT) in nano-integrated wearable biosensor devices for healthcare applications. Biosensors and Bioelectronics: X, 100153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biosx.2022.100153
  12.  Xiang, H., Cai, Q., Li, Y., Zhang, Z., Cao, L., Li, K., & Yang, H. (2020). Sensors Applied for the Detection of Pesticides and Heavy Metals in Freshwaters. Journal of Sensors2020, 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1155/2020/8503491
  13. Gupta, A. K., Koch, P., Yumnam, M., Medhi, M., Madufor, N. J., Opara, U. L., & Mishra, P. (2022). Biosensors Involved in Fruit and Vegetable Processing Industries. In Biosensors in Food Safety and Quality (pp. 111–134). CRC Press. https://doi.org/10.1201/9780429259890-8

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Article Revisions

  • May 22 2024 - Title changed from "Recent Advances in Biosensors for Food Safety" to "The Role of Biosensors in Food Safety Applications"
Ankit Singh

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Ankit Singh

Ankit is a research scholar based in Mumbai, India, specializing in neuronal membrane biophysics. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and has a keen interest in building scientific instruments. He is also passionate about content writing and can adeptly convey complex concepts. Outside of academia, Ankit enjoys sports, reading books, and exploring documentaries, and has a particular interest in credit cards and finance. He also finds relaxation and inspiration in music, especially songs and ghazals.

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