Big grant for investigating bioreactor cultures with fluorescent nanodiamonds

  • Area: Other
  • Area: Other
Romana Schirhagl from the department of Biomaterials and Biotechnology has received support from Schmidt Sciences for research on quantum sensing for assessing the health of a bioreactor culture.

With this grant she will build a sensor with fluorescent nanodiamonds (FNDs) that can read out the health status of yeast cells in a bioreactor. This will be done using a technique that allows nanoscale MRI and that can be used to detect free radical generation. 

Bioreactors are used to produce various products, for example food or beverages, industrial chemicals or drugs for healthcare. Currently the health status in a bioreactor is difficult to assess and that leads to losses in industrial processes. 

Fluorescent nanodiamonds  

To assess the health of a bioreactor culture Schirhagl looks at the stress response that yeast cells generate by releasing free radicals.  These free radicals cause a magnetic signal that nanodiamonds convert into a light signal. ‘In the study we shine with a laser on the nanodiamonds and this makes them bright. Then we wait and see how long it takes until they lose that brightness again. The more radicals there are, the faster the process. While it sounds simple, it is technically challenging because it happens within microseconds and requires you to read out signals from a very tiny particle while it is moving and rotating through a cell. This way nanodiamonds can be used to give insight in what is happening at a subcellular level’, explains Schirhagl.  

Improving health in bioreactors 

‘If we know that there are stress responses in the bioreactor, we can interfere with that by adding other substances to the bioreactor’, says Schirhagl.  ‘In addition, intracellular quantum sensing is a very new topic so the work we will do here can also be interesting for other application where one needs to determine the stress responses of cells.’