Eric McLamore is an associate professor with a focus on biosensors. His background is in cell/tissue physiology and instrumentation, and his interests span several biological domains, including agricultural, environmental, and biomedical. McLamore chose Agricultural and Biological Engineering because it gives him the flexibility to apply his expertise across these areas and access to a faculty where he can collaborate on a wide range of projects.
McLamore describes a biosensor as a device that uses some part of an organism to generate a useful measuring or monitoring signal. He cites a classic example, the canary in the coal mine, which miners carried with them to detect toxic gases. The tiny birds were so sensitive to these gases that they would sicken long before the miners felt the effects, and so the birds served as a warning system. Another example of an animal used as a biosensor is the dog, which was domesticated by humans thousands of years before any other animal. With ears and noses that are much more sensitive than human ones, dogs have been used as “biosensors” for helping humans detect threats and track game.
Of course, most modern biosensors do not engage an entire animal. At this point, the physiology of many animals is understood at a high level of detail, and modern biosensor specialists are more likely to use a single component of an organism -- biochemicals for instance -- and exploit their specific properties. And in contrast to the canary, which can only give qualitative messages about whether a toxic gas is present, the kind of biosensors that McLamore and his colleagues strive to create give quantitative signals that can tell exactly how much of a substance is present.
The possible applications of this technology are vast. McLamore describes the glucose test strip, now used by millions of diabetics to measure their blood sugar. The small strip, which plugs into the meter, contains an enzyme called glucose oxidase, which is often derived from the common Aspergillus mold. Glucose oxidase changes the glucose in a drop of blood into a chemical that can be detected with electrical measurements. The test meter that the strip is attached to runs a small voltage through the sample, and the amount of current that flows is directly related to the amount of glucose in the blood. It is fast, accurate, and inexpensive.
McLamore points out that part of the ingenuity of this approach is that it takes advantage of a chemical that nature has perfected to do a specific job. As McLamore says, "Why reinvent the wheel?" What the enzyme does is fairly simple, but it is perfectly designed to do its job.
Most biosensors are on the cutting edge of technology, and yet the idea has been around for over a century. The result is that a lot of research has been done and a lot of tools are available. McLamore says that, in many cases, an off-the-shelf approach is not possible because solving complex problems means finding the right combination of tools for a specific application. For example in the glucose meter, a different enzyme and the right reacting chemicals could make it possible for the same technology to measure just about anything -- as long as there is an enzyme that interacts with the substance of interest, and the biosensor engineer's toolkit contains thousands of well-studied enzymes.
Developing new biosensor technologies is only one part of McLamore's work. McLamore's goal is not just to be the engineer who makes the right biosensor, he wants to tackle problems in his scientific domains of interest -- agriculture, the environment, and medicine -- and solve those problems. It seems like a broad range of interests, but what brings them all together is the presence of living cells and McLamore's ability to probe physiological processes with biosensors.
The following spotlights just a few of McLamore's many projects and collaborations.
In the agricultural area, McLamore is interested in developing biosensors that monitor physiological transport in plants. He says that biosensor technology can be used to understand the physiology of any plant, but it is especially interesting in the study of genetically modified (GMO) plants and diseases such as pathogen infection. McLamore uses biosensors that can non-invasively measure a selected ion or chemical in real time as it is consumed/produced by plants, something like the life-sign monitors that are connected to patients in hospitals. McLamore's non-invasive biosensors do not interfere with the plant's physiology and are simply "silent observers."
In the environmental area, McLamore discusses the use of biofilms, which are films created by bacteria and other one-celled organisms on various surfaces. A common example of a biofilm is the plaque that people are constantly reminded to remove from their teeth. Bacteria in the mouth produce chemicals that allow them to adhere to teeth. From this secure perch, they can take advantage of the sugars in our food. In turn, they produce more bacteria and more plaque. The acids the bacteria generate in their biofilm cause tooth decay. Other biofilms are found inside pipes, in showers, on the surface of ponds, and in treatment plants -- they are very common. McLamore uses biosensors to understand the cells in a biofilm, both for improving engineered biofilm systems and for turning the biofilm itself into a monitoring device with sensitivity to environmental toxins or disease agents. Again, why reinvent the wheel -- it can be very complicated to create a layer of cells and get them to stick to a measuring device, but that is not necessary because there are already cells that do this on their own.
In a biomedical application, McLamore describes a dramatic application of biosensors in epilepsy. Over two million Americans suffer from epilepsy. Despite medication, some are at risk for a sudden attack of convulsions that leaves them temporarily helpless and can require hours or days of recovery. Some seizures are life-threatening, but every seizure carries the risk of injury if a person falls and strikes an object. Epilepsy patients have reported cuts, head injuries, burns, and drowning incidents, depending on where and when the seizure occurred. McLamore has worked on a biosensor that employs an enzyme and carbon nanotubes which can detect changes in neuron activity. Because the device works in real time, it could potentially give a patient a warning of oncoming seizure and provide an opportunity to find a safe position or take measures to prevent the seizure. An immediate use of the device is monitoring the glutamate flux in and around neurons, which would allow their activity to be monitored. This allows researchers to study the effects of medications or therapies and could lead to more effective treatment. This device creates another tool in the toolkit; by changing the enzyme, many physiological processes could be monitored in real time.
Dr. McLamore specializes in development and application of biosensors for measuring small molecules. We focus on both sensor development and sensor application.
Sensor development: Our research group engineers devices which are based on the interaction of nanomaterials and biomacromolecules (i.e., the bio-nano interface). The design of biosensors follows a three step process: 1) Development of a sensor platform tailored for the specific research question; 2) Immobilization of nanomaterials and biomacromolecules (e.g., proteins) on the sensor platform to provide specificity; 3) Optimization of nanobiosensor performance.
Sensor application: In addition to designing and building novel biosensors, my group collaborates with scientists to apply these devices for investigating mass transport of small molecules in biological systems. In agricultural sciences, my group develops biosensors for studying root and seed physiology. Our biosensors have been used to study seed abortion, gravity sensing (gravitropism and gravitaxis), and cell-cell signaling. In environmental sciences, our biosensors have been used to study wastewater treatment and nutrient transport in soils. In healthcare, our biosensors are used for point-of care patient diagnostics.
- ABE 4043C: Senior Design II
- ABE 4033/5038: Fundamentals and Applications of Biosensors
- ABE 4935/5936: Writing Grant Proposals
Research and Extension
- Sensor and biosensor fabrication
- Biomacromolecule-nanoparticle interactions
- Cell/tissue physiology
- Ph.D. Civil/Ag & Bio Engineering, Purdue University 2008
- M.S.Civil/Environmental Engineering, Texas Tech University 2004
- B.S.Civil Engineering, Texas Tech University 2002
Assistant Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, University of Florida
Research Scientist, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Birck Nanotechnology Center, Bindley Bioscience Center, Purdue University
Post Doctoral Research Associate, School of Civil Engineering, Purdue University
Awards and Honors
- USDA New Teacher Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Food and Agricultural Sciences 2016
- A.W. Farrall Young Educator Award 2015
- ASABE Florida Section Teacher of the Year 2014
- IFAS Early Seed Grant Award, 2013
- Featured Spotlight Article in Biotechnology and Bioengineering (Huang et al., 2013)
- UF Excellence Award to Assistant Professors, 2012
- Editor’s Choice Featured Spotlight Article in Biotechnology and Bioengineering (Jaroch et al., 2011)
- ASCE 2010 Ralph Hering Medal for Paper of the Year (Environmental Water Resources Institute)
- Featured Spotlight Article in Biotechnology and Bioengineering, 2008 (McLamore et al., 2009)
- SURF Graduate Student Mentor of the Year, Purdue University (2008)