Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 410, Issue 4, pp 1191–1203 | Cite as

Synthetic biology for microbial heavy metal biosensors

  • Hyun Ju Kim
  • Haeyoung Jeong
  • Sang Jun LeeEmail author
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Microbial Biosensors for Analytical Applications


Using recombinant DNA technology, various whole-cell biosensors have been developed for detection of environmental pollutants, including heavy metal ions. Whole-cell biosensors have several advantages: easy and inexpensive cultivation, multiple assays, and no requirement of any special techniques for analysis. In the era of synthetic biology, cutting-edge DNA sequencing and gene synthesis technologies have accelerated the development of cell-based biosensors. Here, we summarize current technological advances in whole-cell heavy metal biosensors, including the synthetic biological components (bioparts), sensing and reporter modules, genetic circuits, and chassis cells. We discuss several opportunities for improvement of synthetic cell-based biosensors. First, new functional modules must be discovered in genome databases, and this knowledge must be used to upgrade specific bioparts through molecular engineering. Second, modules must be assembled into functional biosystems in chassis cells. Third, heterogeneity of individual cells in the microbial population must be eliminated. In the perspectives, the development of whole-cell biosensors is also discussed in the aspects of cultivation methods and synthetic cells.


Synthetic biology Microbial whole-cell biosensor Heavy metals 



This work was supported by the Next-Generation BioGreen21 Program (SSAC, PJ01111802), Rural Development Administration, Republic of Korea. This study was also supported by the KRIBB Research Initiative Program and the National Research Foundation of Korea (2015R1A2A2A01005402) funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT, Republic of Korea.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Authors declare that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Systems Biotechnology, and Institute of MicrobiomicsChung-Ang UniversityAnseongRepublic of Korea
  2. 2.Infectious Disease Research CenterKorea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology (KRIBB)DaejeonRepublic of Korea

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