People who believe that their teeth are transmitting messages – perhaps from the CIA – through secret implants in their fillings can normally be dismissed as unbalanced. But Michael McAlpine of Princeton University, US, whose team is responsible for a remote chemical sensor, which really can transmit messages from the molars, is certainly not crazy.
The sensor developed by McAlpine’s team detects bacteria and can operate in rather strange places, including on the surface of teeth. The graphene-based device can spot bacteria at the level of single cells and reports this using wireless technology. His team haven’t picked up any broadcasts from the intelligence services yet, but the sensor is shaping up to be an attractive prototype for the diagnostic tools of the future.
The sensor represents a novel synergy between several clever materials. As well as graphene and designer peptides, a radio frequency identification tag is also part of the setup. This technology – the same type used in electronic key cards – enables wireless communication with a detector. It is the first time such a device has been interfaced directly with biological tissue.