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Breakthrough in Landmine Detection: Enzymit-Enabled TNT Biosensor Developed in Collaboration with Hebrew University

New Peer-Reviewed Study Shows Efficacy of Protein-Based Biosensor to Detect Unexploded Ordnance Using AI and Deep Learning Algorithms

NESS ZIONA, Israel, Sept. 19, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- Enzymit, a bioproduction platform company developing cell-free enzymatic manufacturing technology, today announced a breakthrough in landmine detection through the development of a novel protein-based biosensor that can accurately detect unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Landmines pose a serious threat to human life, with an estimated 110 million currently deployed across the globe responsible for approximately 5,000 people killed or maimed every year. Enzymit collaborated with researchers from Professor Shimshon Belkin's Environmental Microbiology and Biosensor Laboratory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which has spent more than a decade researching biosensing solutions for explosives detection. The project resulted in the creation of a sophisticated biosensing platform utilizing the bacterium E. coli* that can detect trace amounts of dinitrotoluene (DNT), the volatile byproduct of TNT that leaks out of mines into the surrounding earth. The efficacy of the solution has been demonstrated in a peer-reviewed study recently published in the Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal.

"We are honored to partner with Professor Belkin's team and the unparalleled contribution they have made to the development of biosensing solutions for explosives detection," said Gideon Lapidoth, PhD, CEO of Enzymit. "This project marks a breakthrough in the field of landmine detection, while demonstrating the incredible potential of harnessing the synergy between synthetic biology and AI for a future where humanitarian and environmental challenges can be met with safe and sustainable solutions."

The Belkin lab pioneered the bacterium-based approach to detect explosives. It developed a live cell-based sensor, capable of detecting even trace amounts of DNT, emitting bioluminescence to identify the location of explosive material. Utilizing Enzymit's proprietary algorithms and experimental capabilities, specific positions on the sensor were modified for optimal performance. The resulting sensor is up to five times more sensitive, has faster reaction times, and a signal strength 30 times stronger than the original construct. The ability to accurately locate unexploded ordnance from a distance provides a safer and more efficient alternative to traditional detection methods, which require manual excavation or use of metal detectors and pose a substantial risk to life. The biosensor can be applied to detect a range of TNT-based ordnance, including unexploded shells and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), while the versatility of the bacterium makes it suitable for use in remote or hard-to-reach locations.

"The global proliferation of landmines continues to pose a serious threat to human lives and the environment, while traditional methods for detection are costly, time-consuming, and entail substantial risk to life," said Shimshon Belkin, Professor of Environmental Microbiology and head of the Environmental Microbiology and Biosensor Laboratory at the Hebrew University. "This collaboration highlights the potential of synthetic biology in solving some of the world's most pressing problems, with applications that go beyond landmine detection."

This collaboration is a significant step forward in the global fight against landmine proliferation and the realization of a mine-free world. The Belkin and Enzymit teams are currently working to further optimize the system, while exploring how application of the biosensing platform can be expanded to detect other hazardous materials, such as alternative forms of explosive, environmental toxins, and hazardous chemicals.

* The genetically engineered properties of E. coli causes the bacterium to die out shortly after deployment, ensuring it does not pose any human or environmental risk.

About Enzymit

Enzymit is building a cell-free production platform that will make bioproduction faster, simpler, cost-effective, and sustainable. The company leverages complex computational design and deep learning algorithms to create novel enzymes for use in real-world settings. These highly stable and robust enzymes can withstand higher temperatures and work for longer than ever before to enable production of novel molecules in a more efficient and environmentally friendly manner. Enzymit was founded in 2020 by experts in computational protein design, bioengineering, and molecular biology. The company is headquartered in Ness Ziona, Israel.

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