Team:Macquarie Australia

iGEM 2019 Macquarie_Australia

HyDRA:   Hydrogen Detection for Real

Team HyDRA was awarded a Gold Medal and the Best Energy Project!

Aleq Aleq

Australia is positioned to become a world leader in renewable hydrogen gas production and export by 2030 [1]. Hydrogen gas detection is challenging, being odourless, colourless and explosive at low concentrations (4 % v/v). From the canary in the coal mine, to the advanced gas detection equipment available today, the reliable detection of dangerous gas leaks remains of paramount importance for various industries. Hydrogen gas detectors are prone to cross-sensitivity due to the presence of other gases interfering with the measurement. Team HyDRA designed a highly specific hydrogen gas biosensor using Escherichia coli, containing a NiFe hydrogenase and cyclic-di-GMP riboswitch. We designed this system to produce a fluorescent signal upon the detection of sufficient hydrogen gas to be considered a safety threat (40,000 ppm). Consultations with stakeholders such as Fire + Rescue NSW, gas production and pipeline industries, have guided us to design a prototype containing our biosensor, resulting in a safe, reliable and efficient alternative method for quantifying hydrogen gas.

World Problem

Currently, accurate and reliable gas detection is crucial to various industries for safety, quality control and measurement. Hydrogen gas is challenging to detect, as it is odourless, colourless, easily diffusible, small, light and explosive at a low (4 % v/v) concentration in the air. Significant improvement in the specificity of hydrogen gas detectors is urgently required in industries such as natural gas transport, biohydrogen production and deep-sea exploration, where there is an increased likelihood of incorrect readings from existing sensory methods.

Our project will provide a novel solution to this pressing issue in gas detection through the development and design of a unique hydrogen gas biosensor using synthetic biology methods in genetically engineered E.coli.


Our biosensor will consist of two components:

  • 1. A sensory Nickel Iron class 2c hydrogenase from Magnetospirillum magneticum. This is composed of a small subunit, large subunit, protease and diguanylate cyclase/cyclic-di-GMP phosphodiesterase. This will detect H 2.
  • 2. A cyclic-di-GMP riboswitch from Desulforudis audaxviator. This is coupled with a fluorophore reporter, enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP).

Key advantages of our biosensor:

  • Higher specificity for hydrogen gas
  • Design can be integrated into existing technologies and infrastructure
  • Cost effective and renewable
  • Increased sensor longevity
  • Measurable signal with a visual output


1. Bruce S, Temminghoff M, Hayward J, Schmidt E, Munnings C, Palfreyman D, Hartley P. National Hydrogen Roadmap. 2018.

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