DTRA awards grant for microfluidic system to combat biothreat agents and environmental microbes

HanWith the constant danger of biothreat agents in the environment, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has awarded a grant to a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University to combat these agents with an innovative process.

Dr. Arum Han (pictured), associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Dr. Paul de Figueiredo, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, the Department of Plant Pathology and the Department of Microbiology, and a researcher in the Borlaug Advanced Research Center; and Dr. Thomas Ficht, professor in the Departments of Veterinary Pathobiology have received a grant from DTRA as part of the agency's Basic Research for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Program to develop a microfluidic lab-on-a-chip system that enables ultra-high-throughput analysis of interactions between biothreat agents and environmental microbes.

Han said microbes in the environment exist as members of complex communities, and interactions among these members regulate the survival, growth and persistence of individual microbial species. He said many biothreat agents (including brucella­­, a bacterial pathogen of humans and animals­­) can survive and persist in the environment. However the microbe-to-microbe interactions that mediate these interactions remain obscure. Han’s research on microfluidic lab-on-a-chip technologies could revolutionize the field of detecting these agents, and developing interventions that limit the persistence of these agents in the environment.

The system Han’s team is developing will have capabilities for on-chip sorting and analysis of microbial interactions, and also support downstream molecular biological analyses. In addition to elucidating interactions between potential biothreat agents and environmental microbes, this work also has the potential to identify microbes that synthesize natural products that can be used to treat infection. The work may have a broad and significant impact on biodefense and human and animal health.

Han, director of the NanoBio Systems Lab and an expert in microfluidic lab-on-a-chip technologies, joined the bio­ area of the electrical and computer engineering de­partment in August 2005. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Seoul Na­tional University in Ko­rea in 1997 and his master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati in 2000. In August 2005, he received his Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology.  

Han’s research interests lie in the devel­opment of microfluidic and lab-on-a-chip systems for applications in cellular and molecular analysis. Particular focus areas are in developing high-throughput screening systems and portable detection systems for applications in developmental neurobiology, cancer metastasis, infectious diseases and microbe-mediated bioenergy solutions.

Contact: Dr. Arum Han, (979) 845-9686, arum.han@ece.tamu.edu