Aalto-Helsinki 2020


SINISENS, sininen meaning blue in Finnish, is an on-site biosensor for macrolide detection and quantification which aims to help protect our shrinking water resources and protect the environment from one of the pressing issues it is facing today: pharma pollution. The end-user we have designed it for are wastewater treatment plants. A sample of wastewater could be placed in the biosensor: if macrolide antibiotics are present, green fluorescence would be created.


Pharma Pollution in Waters

Micropollutants, which include substances like pharmaceuticals and pesticides, have been getting attention due to their persistence in the environment, the fact that they can remain biologically active [1] and may have a synergistic effect with other compounds. Due to pollution coming from both manufacturing and human use, they are widely present in various bodies of water [2].

Macrolide Antibiotics

One of the pharmaceutical compounds raising particular concern are macrolide antibiotics. These antibiotics are prescribed for many infections, both in humans and animals [3]. Although they are present in low amounts in wastewater, macrolides can accumulate over time. Moreover, these compounds can have a negative impact on the environment already in very small concentrations. An additional danger carried by macrolides is that the introduction of antibiotics into the water may lead to the development of microorganisms resistant to them [3, 4].


Due to the low concentrations of pharmaceuticals in water, their detection is expensive and resource-heavy, as it requires sample preparation, complex equipment and trained staff [3]. An on-site biosensor would be a more affordable and easy to use tool for quantification of macrolide concentration. We aimed its development towards the use in wastewater treatment plants, where it could be used for optimization of the removal process of pharmaceuticals.

Beyond Synthetic Biology

In addition to SINISENS, we wanted to tackle the issue at its source: an excess and improper use and handling of antibiotics. In order to raise awareness of the problem, we created a campaign explaining the risks associated with antimicrobial resistance, as well as pointing in the direction of how our everyday choices can prevent it. To reach younger audiences we have also created an educational mobile game: Fix The Flow.


1. "Science for Environment Policy": European Commission DG Environment News Alert. Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol.
2. Arnold, K. E., Boxall, A. B. A., Brown, A. R., Cuthbert, R. J., Gaw, S., Hutchinson, T. H., et al. (2013). Assessing the exposure risk and impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment on individuals and ecosystems. Biology Letters (2005), 9(4), 20130492. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2013.0492
3. Schafhauser, B. H., Kristofco, L. A., de Oliveira, Cíntia Mara Ribas, & Brooks, B. W. (2018). Global review and analysis of erythromycin in the environment: Occurrence, bioaccumulation and antibiotic resistance hazards. Environmental Pollution, 238, 440-451. doi:10.1016/j.envpol.2018.03.052
4. ECDC/EFSA/EMA second joint report on the integrated analysis of the consumption of antimicrobial agents and occurrence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria from humans and food‐producing animals. (2017). EFSA Journal, 15(7), e04872. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2017.4872

Special thanks to HSY for all their support

Kemistintie 1, Espoo, Finland