A brief look at biosensors

A biosensor is an analytical device that utilizes biological components to detect target molecules. Although biosensor designs have become more sophisticated over the years, at the heart of every biosensor, it will always be constructed to have a recognition and transduction element. The recognition element can utilize proteins (enzyme, antibody), nucleic acid (oligonucleotides, aptamers, nucleic acid enzymes), whole cells or any other biomimetic molecules that interact with the molecule of interest. A transducer is a mechanism that translates this interaction into an electrical, optical, thermometric, signal.1 In recent years, biosensors have adopted a third element to generate an enhanced signal-to-noise ratio. This amplification unit can take many forms but the end result is to increase detection sensitivities.

The first concept of a biosensor began in 1956, when Dr. Leland C. Clark at Rochester University showcased an electrochemical probe for measuring dissolved oxygen in blood.2 The first public description of a biosensor was presented in paper in 1962 in which Dr. Leland Clark termed his device as "enzyme electrode".3 The 1970s focused on improving the selectivity of the recognition element, which became the driving force behind the introduction of antibodies into biosensor design.1 This demand for specificity led to the development of the BIAcore sensor chip in 1984, which facilitated pharmaceutical companies in the selection of monoclonal antibodies for target recognition.4 In 1990, the field of laboratory bioassays was becoming increasingly saturated. In response, Medisense Exatech took the next step of commercializing glucose meters for at-home use.5 The self-contained instrument was about the size of a pen and contained disposable electrode to circumvent the calibration step.5 Portable glucose meters soon became the world's best-selling biosensor product.5 Shortly afterward, take-home pregnancy tests entered the market and met with sustained commercial success.6 Today, applications of biosensors span across multiple industries, from food and water quality control to medical diagnostics.7 With the request for sensitive and convenient analysis, the field of biosensor continues to expand its applications while seeking out more portable, affordable, and user-friendly designs. 


(1)    Palchetti I., Mascini M. (2010) Biosensor Technology: A Brief History. In: Malcovati P., Baschirotto A., d'Amico A., Natale C. (eds) Sensors and Microsystems. Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering, vol 54. Springer, Dordrecht

(2)    Clark L. C., and Lyons, C. (1962) Electrode systems for continuous monitoring cardiovascular surgery. Ann NY Acad Sci 102, 29-45

(3)    Severinghaus, J. W., and Astrup, P. B. (1986) History of blood gas analysis. IV. Leland Clark's oxygen electrode. J Clin Monit 2, 125-139.

(4)    Hodnik, V., and Anderluh, G. (2010) Capture of intact liposomes on biacore sensor chips for protein-membrane interaction studies. Methods Mol. Biol. 627, 201-211.

(5)    Yoo, E.-H., and Lee, S.-Y. (2010) Glucose Biosensors: An Overview of Use in Clinical Practice. Sensors (Basel) 10, 4558-4576.

(6)    Vaitukaitis, J. L. (2004) Development of the home pregnancy test. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1038, 220-222.

(7)    Song, S., Xu, H., and Fan, C. (2006) Potential diagnostic applications of biosensors: current and future directions. Int J Nanomedicine 1, 433-440.