The research project «The interaction of photosensitive proteins with microfabricated sensor arrays» (Photosense) is about microsensors and vision.
The utilisation of naturally occurring protein nanomachines will be used as the basis for a technology that may restore vision and thereby benefit millions of people worldwide that are suffering from retinal degenerative diseases.
Photosense will seek to develop a novel artificial retina, built around the photosensitive protein, bacteriorhodopsin, which represents the utmost example of a «bottom-up» approach and the ideal design of modern nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology is a priority
Research in nanotechnology, microtechnology and advanced materials is a priority area for the Government's long-term plan for research and higher education 2019–2028.
Photosense combines a highly sophisticated nanomachine derived and optimized through natural evolution, with current state of the art in microfabricated electronic circuitry and sensors.
The result is a device that is directly powered by incident light, does not require any external power supplies or bulky hardware, and offers the potential for far greater visual resolution than competing electrode-based technologies.
Photosense is a collaborative project between research groups at The University of South-Eastern Norway (USN), The University of Oslo (UiO) and from Connecticut in the USA. Professor Erik A. Johannessen at USN is the Project Manager.
The Research Council of Norway (NFR) has issued an award of 12 mill NOK to fund the project from 1st October 2021 to 31st March 2025 through their research programme for «Nanotechnology and advanced materials (NANO2021)».
How the scientists work
The development of a high-resolution integrated microsensor array that combines optical, electrical and electrochemical pixels will constitute a key element of the project work.
The array will be used to probe the function of ordered arrays of bacteriorhodopsin through a direct optical investigation of the active (light absorbing) state while recording the charge redistribution and subsequent translocation of protons. The proton translocation couples downstream to stimulate the remaining nerve cells in the retina to give a perception of sight.
Such functional verification has yet to be reported and will generate additional insight into protein behaviour as well as facilitating the development and optimization of implantable devices using bacteriorhodopsin as the photo-transducing element.