Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) research enterprise in Singapore, the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), are conducting research to aid the development of nanosensor technology for the detection of foodborne bacteria.

A SMART research team has been awarded an Intra-CREATE grant by the National Research Foundation (NRF) Singapore. The grants are part of the NRF’s initiative to bring together researchers from institutions under the Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) in order to achieve greater impact from collaborative research efforts. The grant has been awarded to researchers from SMART’s Disruptive and Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision (DiSTAP) interdisciplinary research group (IRG) to develop food packaging capable of detecting foodborne bacteria.

Hosted by SMART DiSTAP in collaboration with the National University of Singapore (NUS), the research project “Biodegradable Silk-Nanocomposite Multifunctional Films for Sustainable, Smart, and Active Food Packaging” aims to develop a protein-based, biodegradable, and multifunctional food packaging solution capable of detecting and combating foodborne pathogens in real time.

The novel and sustainable approach aims to enable early and real-time detection of specific foodborne bacteria, achieved by replacing plastic-based packaging with nature-derived protein-based films with added stimuli-responsive nanosensors and antimicrobial hydrogels.

Foodborne illnesses are often caused by bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses, and food packaging plays an important role in maintaining food safety and freshness. However, conventional food packaging materials are passive barriers that can only delay the adverse effects of contamination, and many are made of synthetic plastics and petroleum-derived polymers which contribute to environmental waste and pollution.