Research aimed at creating a new biosensor that would help military investigators search for signs of nuclear activities, including weapons development, is moving forward under the leadership of a former naval officer who now is a Clemson University faculty member.
Nicole Martinez and her team are beginning to lay the groundwork for a biosensor that could help determine whether the radiation is natural, manmade and peaceful or weapons-grade. It could help investigators search for labs amid concerns a nation or group could illicitly develop weapons of mass destruction.
Martinez told South Carolina Radio Network that the device could help detect very low levels of radiation. “The unique aspect of the biosensor we envision is that it would give an indication of radiation exposure even after the radiation source is removed or relocated,” Martinez said. “Moreover, the proposed biosensor may distinguish between types of radiation, which would provide insight into its origin.”
The biosensor would be an improvement on current radiation-detection systems that are easily identified, must be placed close to the radiation source and report on radiation emitted only at the time the detection system is present. “What we’re looking at is some of the fundamental science that goes along with creating that biosensor,” Martinez said.
The environmental engineering and Earth sciences professor is the principal investigator on the nearly $870,000 project. The grant lasts three years and could be eligible for a two-year extension, boosting the total to about $1.5 million.
The U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency is funding the project. Exactly how the biosensor would be used and what it would look like has not been determined and would ultimately be up to the Defense Department.
But if the biosensor functions as hoped, it could be the first based on how bacteria and yeast change DNA to RNA, a process called transcription.