Regular biosensors have been used for many different applications including health care, environmental monitoring, pharmaceutical discovery, food processing, cosmetics, chemical industries, bioterrorism/defense, and bioprocess monitoring/control.

Bionanosensors are designed to pick up specific biological signals usually by producing a digital electronic signal associated with a specific biological or chemical compound. New methods such as micro/nanofabrication as well as advanced electronics have made development of much improved biomedical sensors possible. These advanced biosensors have the ability to provide big changes in the medical, pharmaceutical, and environmental industries. Individual monitoring nanodevices such as glucose sensors for diabetics are also in development.

Bionanosensors provide scientists with selective identification of toxic chemical compounds at ultra low levels in industrial products, chemical substances, air, soil, and water samples, or in biological systems (e.g., bacteria, viruses, cells, or tissues). By combining very specific biomarkers (e.g., dyes) with optical detection and high-powered computer systems, bionanosensors are able to find and differentiate between complex components.

Most biosensors work by measuring sample interactions with a reactant as it forms in to a product. The reaction is picked up by a sensor that converts it to an electrical signal. The signal is then displayed/recorded on a computer monitor. Reactions within biological processes can be picked up by transducers in several different ways, as listed in Table 5-1. The type of sensor used is often determined by the specific biological process.

The following characteristics are important components of bionanosensors:

• Able to isolate a specific biological factor with little interference

• Quick response time

• Biocompatible

• Super sensitive

• Super accurate

• Lower cost on more/different tests per sample

Table 5-1 A biosensor transducer can detect changes between reactants and products in many ways.

Transducer Method

Type of Biosensor

Heat output or absorption


Changes in charge distribution


Movement of electrons from a redox reaction


Light output or absorption


Mass effects


Bionanosensor development faces a few hurdles before it can become the norm in most laboratories and hospitals around the world. First, bionanosensors have to be integrated/assessed with regard to current clinical methods, as well as developing bioengineering techniques and advanced electronics. For example, the number of times a biosensor can be used during a process is often limited as proteins build up on the biologically active interfaces.

Next, electronic and biological interfaces between materials need to be joined with various systems to get high sensitivity, selectivity, and stability.

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