Bacterial pathogens and their toxins are the most common causes of foodborne illnesses. Detecting pathogenic bacterial contaminants in complex matrices (e.g., fresh produce) is an essential step to ensure food safety. One of the major challenges for detecting those contaminants lies in the lack of rapid and ultrasensitive detection methods. This multidisciplinary project aims to develop innovative biosensors that can rapidly and accurately screen a large number of samples for pathogenic contaminants. This project is integrated with outreach activities offered through the STEMette Summer Camp and Engineering High School Day to introduce K-12 students to the state-of-the-art biosensor technology. In addition, new course modules based on the results of this project are incorporated into existing undergraduate and graduate courses at both the University of Missouri and Rice University.

This project includes three research objectives: (1) design a clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeats-associated system (CRISPR-Cas) to detect foodborne bacterial pathogens, (2) develop an ultrasensitive SERS system in a microfluidic device, and (3) integrate CRISPR with SERS in the microfluidic device for rapid, ultrasensitive, and selective detection of foodborne bacterial pathogens. This research discovers, contributes to, and supplements the fundamental understanding of essential principles for engineering CRISPR-based next-generation biosensors. By coupling CRISPR with SERS, this study also creates a new sensing mechanism that has the potential to achieve detection with single-copy sensitivity and single-base selectivity.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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Rice University
United States
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