NC1194: Nanotechnology and Biosensors

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

NC1194: Nanotechnology and Biosensors

Duration: 10/01/2016 to 09/30/2021

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

Development of sensing and processing technologies utilizing nanotechnology has become more relevant for furthering our understanding of biological phenomena related to food, agriculture, environment, and energy. As we understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie the emergence and spread of pathogens and their consequent impact on our agricultural and food systems, and gain insight into the molecular mechanism of life itself, it becomes clear that the technology to investigate, intervene and mitigate need to be correspondingly small, i.e. within the realm of nanotechnology. 

According to the FY 2014-2018 Strategic Plan published by the USDA, one of the strategic goals for this period is to “Ensure that all of America's children have access to safe, nutritious and balanced meals.” Within this goal, Specific Objective 4.3 states that we must “Protect public health by ensuring that food is safe”. Reduction in the number of foodborne illnesses will require a comprehensive "farm-to-fork" risk assessment, coupled with appropriate technological measures to screen, identify, and eliminate offending food pathogens.

 In addition to safety concerns in processed foods, plant/animal pathogens also represent major threats to worldwide food security. Rapid responses to crops and livestock epidemics require fast and accurate evaluation of plant/animal pathogens, which also calls for advances in biosensor technology to provide more user-friendly tools and techniques. Besides pathogen detection, novel biosensors could support better and more rapid monitoring of crop growth and animal welfare, which could lead to better practice of production/processing that will help safeguard both food security and environmental sustainability in the long term.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Nanotechnology and biosensors may present a double-edged sword to the food and agricultural systems. On one hand, they hold great promise to improve life quality (e.g., Wu et al. 2005; Elliott and Zhang 2001; Kim et al. 2004; Cao et al. 2005; Waychunas et al. 2005, Diallo et al. 1999; Fujishima et al. 2000; Long and Yang 2001; Yue and Economy 2005, Kong et al. 2000; Cui et al. 2001; Nicewarner-Pena et al. 2001). On the other hand, nanotechnology may present health and contamination risks to the ecosystems because they introduce new materials to the environment (e.g., Dreher 2004; Halford 2004; Renwick et al. 2004). Despite the rapid development of these technologies recently, there are still knowledge gaps in how to properly apply nanotechnology and biosensors to the agricultural systems.


  1. Develop new technologies for characterizing fundamental nanoscale processes
  2. Construct and characterize self-assembled nanostructures
  3. Develop devices and systems incorporating microfabrication and nanotechnology
  4. Develop a framework for economic, environmental and health risk assessment for nanotechnologies applied to food, agriculture and biological systems
  5. Develop/improve education and outreach materials on nanofabrication, sensing, systems integration and application risk assessment
  6. Improve academic-industry partnership to help move the developed technologies to commercialization phase


Multidisciplinary experimentation and modeling methods at different scales will be used to fulfill the objectives. We will use bench-scale and field-scale experimentation and modeling methods to investigate the application and implication of nanotechnology in agricultural and biological systems. These methods can be summarized as: 1. Bench-scale Investigation: Laboratory experiments will be conducted to synthesis and characterize, and explore the applications of various types of nano-based materials. Mathematical modeling will be developed and model simulations will be used to help the data analysis. 2. Field-scale Investigation: Field-scale experiments will be used to evaluate the applicaiton and impact of nanotechnology to agriculture and the environment. Mathematical models will be used to help the data analysis.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Research articles in peer reviewed journals and publications, presentations at national and international meetings, and workshops and patents
  • Course modules on different aspects of nanotechnology and biosensors, which are accessible to the educational community and public
  • Workshops and seminars on nanotechnology and biosensors with proceedings of the workshops made available to the public
  • Web-based resource clearing house for educational communities and the public
  • Prototype nano-biosensors incorporating nanoparticles, nanowires, nanobars, nano-pillars, and nanopores
  • Field-deployable prototype devices tested with bacteria, viruses, and toxins, chemicals, and other contaminants that are ready for potential commercialization

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Greater understanding of nanotechnology by the public.
  • Increased awareness and application of nanotechnology to agricultural and biological systems.
  • Increased number of students from land grant universities with training in the basic techniques of nanotechnolog.
  • Development of tools and products which exploit the novel properties of nanomaterials and nanoscale devices and benefit different aspects of agriculture and biological engineering research.
  • Understanding of the fundamental nanoscale phenomena and processes in food and agricultural products as well as the processes that apply to these products
  • Understanding of the potential of certain techniques and devices and what is needed to optimize and improve them within a theoretical context
  • Development of nanoscale devices and systems that will advance the capabilities of currently designed devices for higher performance (sensitivity, speed of detection, and applications for example)
  • Development of a prototype nano-biosensors including specifications for the design and synthesis of corresponding nanomaterials
  • Development of emulsion or liposome systems for single-cell and single virus analysis


(2016):1. Initiate experiments to construct and characterize novel self-assembled nanoparticles. 2. Improve device microfabrication techniques. 3. Optimize the performance parameters of new nanomaterials, biosensors and other devices. 4. Conduct annual meeting to report progress of research activities.

(2017):1. Validate methods for characterizing nanoscale processes. 2. Validate the developed biosensors and other devices in food, agriculture, and environmental matrices. 3. Develop educational teaching materials on nanotechnology and biosensors. 4. Submit technology inventions and patent applications of developed technologies. 5. Conduct annual meeting to report progress of research activities.

(2018):1. Optimize the performance parameters of the biosensors and other devices in food, agriculture, and environmental matrices. 2. Develop a framework for economic, environmental and health risk assessment for nanotechnologies applied to food, agriculture and biological systems. 3. Explore commercialization strategies. 4. Exchange educational teaching materials on nanotechnology and biosensors among member institutions. 5. Conduct annual meeting to report progress of research activities.

(2019):1. Continue to validate the biosensors and other devices in real matrices. 2. Identify potential industry partners and initiate meetings with these partners. 3. Assess market-readiness of the technologies. 4. Continue the exchange of educational teaching materials on nanotechnology and biosensors among member institutions. 5. Conduct annual meeting to report progress of research activities

(2020):1. Continue to validate the biosensors and other devices in real matrices. 2. Continue to assess market-readiness of the technologies. 3. Work with start-up companies to launch technology commercialization. 4. Continue the exchange of educational teaching materials on nanotechnology and biosensors among member institutions. 5. Conduct annual meeting to report progress of research activities. 6. Assess the accomplishments of NC-1194 and prepare for renewal.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

The general educational goal of the NC-1194 committee is to provide a framework for biosensor and bionanotechnology education to a broad audience of agriculture and food science students outside the traditional research community (physical science/engineering graduate students) that is supported by and integrated into the educational and outreach goals of our departments and institutions. We firmly believe that undergraduates will benefit from such an education, even those who will not pursue a scientific career. These students will be the backbone of our future workforce who may be responsible for handling agricultural products and/or food safety issues. 

Nanotechnology is continuing to have a profound impact over our society, by bringing new technical breakthroughs in material and biological, and by creating new environmental and ethical challenges related to its implementation in many biological applications. To manage these complex issues, we will need future generations to understand the technology in order to make educated decisions concerning its use. Courses on modern biosensors and nanotechnology are not widely available for agricultural and food sciences students in today's college curriculum, the NC-1194 committee on nantechnology and biosensors is uniquely positioned to address these educational needs and serve our students' best interests. 

To achieve these goals, the committee will: 1. Implement a course-material sharing mechanism (firstly through file-sharing on dropbox, then a website to be developed) to share teaching materials. McLamore from University of Florida will lead this effort. Available materials to be shared inlcude Biosensors and nanotechnology course materials developed at MSU, Univ. of Arizona, Univ. f Florida, ISU, Purdue and University of Hawaii. New teaching materials will be shared as they are developed at participating institutes. By generating this common hub for teaching materials, we believe our students will be greatly benefited as they can gain access to a much broader range of learning materials beyond their own institution. 2. Utilize the open-bioinstrumentation potentiostat approach to facilitate student learning. Jenkins from Univ. of Hawaii and Bhalerao from Univ. of Illinois are developing a general purpose data acquisition and control system which he expects to be fully functional for Fall 2016 term. The potentiostat will be supported by an interface through an Android app over Bluetooth to make it super flexible for graphical data presentation, manipulation and sharing. All committee members will be able to utilize this approach in our lab courses to enrich student learning, and to encourage team-work and networking between students from different institutions. This would be a priority item on the committee’s action list to be implemented in 2017, and throughout the duration of this project. 

One aspect of nanotechnology that is of particular interests to the general public is the potential impact of nanomaterials to human, animal and environmental health. The work of the committee can be further improved by including such expertise as nanosafety and security. We will actively seek to recruit experts in these fields to join our team. This will be a priority item on our action list for 2016-2017.   


NC-1194 is organized according to the guidelines in the USDA Multistate Research Manual, as found at Membership includes an administrative advisor (Dr. Vincent Bralts), a CSREES representative (Dr. Hongda Chen) and project leaders from cooperating stations. Meetings are held annually. The secretary for the coming year is elected at the end of each meeting. The previous secretary moves up to vice-chair and the vice-chair to chair. These three officers, the past chair, and the administrative advisor constitute the executive committee. The dates of the annual meeting (typically two or three days) are determined by the host and the chair after consulting the Committee at the preceding meeting. The chair develops an agenda for the upcoming meeting in consultation with the executive committee and feedback from the membership. The annual meeting includes technical reports from each represented station, discussion of results and future areas of collaboration, and meetings among smaller ad hoc committees. The location of the meeting for the coming year is determined by vote at the end of each meeting. Meetings are typically held in conjunction with annual meeting of a related professional organization. Minutes are prepared by the secretary and sent to members. An annual report is prepared by the chair, submitted to the administrative advisor, and posted at the NC-1194 web site. 

Literature Cited

Cao, J. S., D. Elliott, et al. 2005. Perchlorate reduction by nanoscale iron particles. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 7(4-5): 499-506.

Cui, Y, QQ Wei, HK Park, CM Lieber. 2001. Nanowire nanosensors for highly sensitive and selective detection of biological and chemical species. Science, 293(5533): 1289-1292.

Diallo, MS, L Balogh, A Shafagati, JH Johnson, WA Goddard, DA Tomalia. 1999. Poly(amidoamine) dendrimers: A new class of high capacity chelating agents for Cu(II) ions. Envir. Sci. Tech. 33(5): 820-824.

Dreher KL 2004. Health and environmental impact of nanotechnology: Toxicological assessment of manufactured nanoparticles. Toxicological Sci. 77(1): 3-5.

Elliott DW & W-X Zhang. 2001. Field assessment of nanoscale biometallic particles for groundwater treatment. Envir. Sci. Tech. 35(24): 4922-4926.
Fujishima A, TN Rao, DA Tryk. 2000. TiO2 photocatalysts and diamond electrodes. Electrochimica ACTA, 45(28): 4683-4690.

Halford, B. 2004. Buckyballs damage bass brains. Chem. Engr. News 82(14): 14.
Kim, T. Y., D. W. Kim, et al. 2004. Phase I and pharmacokinetic study of Genexol-PM, a cremophor-free, polymeric micelle-formulated paclitaxel, in patients with advanced malignancies. Clinical Cancer Research 10(11): 3708-3716.

Kong, J, NR Franklin, CW Zhou, MG Chapline, S Peng, KJ Cho, HJ Dai. 2000. Nanotube molecular wires as chemical sensors. Science, 287(5453): 622-625.
Long, RQ & RT Yang. 2001. Carbon nanotubes as superior sorbent for dioxin removal J. Am. Chem. Soc. 123(9): 2058-2059.

Nicewarner-Pena, SR, RG Freeman, BD Reiss, L He, DJ Pena, ID Walton, R Cromer, CD Keating, MJ Natan. 2001. Submicrometer metallic barcodes. Science, 294(5540): 137-141.

Renwick, L. C., D. Brown, et al. 2004. Increased inflammation and altered macrophage chemotactic responses caused by two ultrafine particle types. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 61(5): 442-447.

Waychunas, G. A., C. S. Kim, et al. 2005. Nanoparticulate iron oxide minerals in soils and sediments: unique properties and contaminant scavenging mechanisms. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 7(4-5): 409-433.

Wu, L., M. Shamsuzzoha, et al. 2005. Preparation of cellulose acetate supported zero-valent iron nanoparticles for the dechlorination of trichloroethylene in water. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 7(4-5): 469-476.

Yue, Z. R. and J. Economy 2005. Nanoparticle and nanoporous carbon adsorbents for removal of trace organic contaminants from water. Journal of Nanoparticle Research 7(4-5): 477-487.


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Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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