Why a technology landscape on bioindicator systems?


Assessment on the condition of a particular environment, such as detecting:

  • contaminants such as heavy metals or human-made chemical compounds,
  • lack of nutrients or minerals in soil or water, or
  • physical conditions such as ambient temperature, humidity and UV radiation,

currently rely heavily on quantitative methods using complex electronic or chemistry-based systems.  Such methods can be expensive, time consuming and labour-intensive.  The interpretation of quantitative results in biological or qualitative terms can also be difficult, in other words, how does one decide how much/less is too much/less for an organism in a given environment?

In order to overcome some of the problems with the present available methods to monitor environmental conditions, molecular biologists have started using biotechnological tools to create ‘live’ reporter organisms that detect the presence/absence of particular substances or conditions and convert the corresponding message into a detectable signal.  The signal can be detected on site, that reflects a biological condition of the reporter organism in response to the environment that is being assessed, therefore remedial action can be implemented without delay.

A survey and analysis on patent and non-patent (journal) literature concerning technology in the field of bioindicator systems was conducted to investigate the following points:

  • institutions and inventors in this field
  • what technology has been developed, assessed, and patented, and
  • what stage of research and development the field of bioindicator systems is currently in.

Scope of this technology landscape

The main focus of this technology landscape is on transgenic bioindicator systems that detect the presence or lack of substances and physical conditions in the external environment.  There are many non-patent literature and patent documents on nucleic acid sequences concerning inducible promoters, transporters and reporters as well as bioindicators that detect pathogens that have not been included in this landscape.

What this this technology landscape about?

This technology landscape focuses on the following three main topics:

  • bioindicator systems that involve development of transgenic organisms
  • bioindicator systems that detect presence or lack of substances in the external environment of an organism (or a community of organisms)
  • bioindicators systems that detect abiotic stress conditions towards an organism (or a community of organisms)

This technology landscape is divided into six chapters and an appendix:

  1. General information (introduction on patents and about this technology landscape on bioindicator systems)
  2. Soil condition monitoring (scientific literature review)
  3. Detection of abiotic stress (patent analysis)
  4. Detection of metal and other toxic compounds (patent analysis)
  5. Detection of explosives (patent analysis)
  6. General bioindicator systems (patent analysis)
  7. Appendix (patent analysis)

What is this technology landscape not about?

The following topics have not been considered in this technology landscape, since each topic contains sufficient information for them to have individual technology landscapes:

  • inducible promoter sequences
  • transporter sequences
  • reporter gene sequences
  • bioindicator systems that detect pathogens
  • biosensors that do not involve transformation (e.g. enzyme biosensors, antibody/reporter protein biosensors)


Kohler S, Belkin S, Schmid RD. (2000). Reporter gene assays in environmental analysis. Fresenius J Anal Chem. 366:769-779.