Biological Detection Overview

Collaborating with government agencies in the USA and UK in the field of biological threat detection, Kromek is working towards the common goal of improving the early detection of biological threats anytime and anywhere, making the world safer and healthier.

The Need 

Biological threats are transmissible agents that spread from person to person (e.g., smallpox, Ebola, SARS-CoV-2) or animal to animal (e.g., foot and mouth disease). They can also be agents that may cause adverse effects in exposed individuals but that do not make those individuals contagious to others (e.g., anthrax, botulinum toxin).  

Minimising the impact of pathogen-initiated outbreaks, whether naturally occurring or intentional biological attacks, depends on our ability to detect and identify the causative agent, in order to diagnose, properly triage and treat those infected, and gauge the extent and dynamics of an outbreak. If we want to continuously protect the world from highly contagious, natural, mutating and engineered, biological threats, we need to have fast actionable intelligence through early warning portable systems to make those informed decisions. 

Black and white biohazard symbol

DNA sequencing provides a sample’s constitution and its pathogenic burden. Advances in genome engineering (e.g., CRISPR) and synthetic biology mean that variations of pathogens can be created as bioweapons which evade detection by standard targeted techniques like PCR. Next generation sequencing (NGS) identifies agnostically biological entities (e.g., bioterrorist agents) from a variety of sample types. Currently NGS needs expert users and scientists to perform the technology in centralised laboratories. The logistics and transport of samples makes this very time consuming and scaling up is hindered by the expertise needed to analyse the samples. 

Image of DNA

The Solution 

Our revolutionary integrated environmental monitoring systems allow early detection of any biological threat across large areas and can inform appropriate and timely response to a potential threat.  

We are developing a novel fully automated and autonomous biosensing system that detects the presence of airborne or waterborne pathogens (viral and bacterial) based on long read sequencing. 

The devices autonomously and continuously collect air samples which are immediately processed and analysed. Alternatively other sample types (e.g., water, wastewater, filters, swabs, powder) will be manually loaded into the system. 

In 2019, Kromek began developing a solution to overcome the limitations of Next Generation Sequencing in wide area surveillance and monitoring, working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the USA and the UK Government. Additional funding from Innovate UK in 2021 allowed to adapt the technology to indoor monitoring of buildings and offer not only agnostic detection of all pathogens but also the targeted detection of specific pathogens (SARS-CoV-2) via Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) with its time and cost savings. This was worldwide the first SARS-CoV-2 air quality system using a targeted molecular assay in combination with automated air sampling, processing and detection.

The goal of the Biosequencer project is to create a platform for two different use cases:  

  • An autonomous system for monitoring air and (waste)water which consists of fully automated air and (waste)water collection, processing, genetic sequencing and analysis so threats can be more readily detected without resource burden. This will deliver fast actionable information to military and civilian health authorities. The early warning system can serve as both a standalone device in a specific location, and as part of a network of monitoring devices. 
  • An automated portable sequencing lab (‘Lab in a box’) with minimal user interaction which allows the in-field analysis of suspicious samples with results rapidly available to troops and other responders. The threats will be identified down to species level and countermeasures can be rapidly enacted. 

Both use cases finally allow detection outside of certified BSL 2 laboratories. The technology is simple to deploy and use and is inherently scalable. Proprietary software maps generated data against all organisms. 

Kromek Biological Threat Detection Technology is fully autonomous and unmanned and combines best-in-class technologies for air sampling, biological testing, and data management. 

The Covid-19 pandemic caused extreme disruption of the entire economy and threatened to overwhelm the health systems of countries worldwide. Kromek Biological Threat Detection Technology provides the ability to act, react, and make better decisions in terms of public health and national security. 

The Next Steps 

The next phase of the project is to continue three aspects: 

  1. Biosequencer Platform. At the end of 2022 we reached our milestone to develop a Beta prototype of the platform at Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6. The focus is now on integrating the different technologies, reducing the size, weight and power requirements of the device, and transfer into a ruggedised portable housing. We will upgrade the bioinformatics and control software to improve the ease of use for non-expert users. We will fully automate the viral detection pipeline and integrate both viral and bacterial processing and detection. The hardware will be altered to allow additional input types (e.g., BioWatch filters, swabs, powders, and wastewater). Upcoming field trials will give further end user feedback and reliability data. We are looking for additional collaborators to participate in field trials and studies in a variety of use case scenarios. 
  2. Novel outdoor concentrator and sampler. Kromek’s prototype concentrator and sampler has been tested in limited test chamber and field trials in urban and rural environments. Our next priorities are to fully characterise the collection efficiency of the cyclone with viable biological aerosol. Specialised methodologies and facilities are required for biological aerosol testing, and we are actively seeking partners related to this. 
  3. Productization of our indoor monitoring platform based on LAMP (called KAPscan-AT). We continue to evaluate and optimise our indoor air sampler. In addition, we are looking for partners to develop the platform further to allow multiplexing and develop additional targeted assays beyond SARS-CoV-2. 

What's the current state of the project?

The Process

A brief description in pictures of the unique Kromek Biological Threat Detection Technology

Sequence of events that occur

Air Sampling

Air sampling information and image: how it works

Biosequencer Platform


At several events during 2022 Kromek got positive feedback regarding our unique capabilites (in situ collection, agnostic detection, highly sensitive analysis, fully automated) which were developed over 4 years in-house and do not exist anywhere else. 

  1. In May 2022, Kromek demonstrated the fully automated end-to-end sample sequencing run during the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) event ‘Chemical Biological Operational Analysis (CBOA)’ at Eglin AFB in Florida, USA. You can find some of the data on this scientific poster  
  2.  Also in May 2022, Kromek demonstrated air sampling and automated end-to-end sample sequencing at two undisclosed locations in the UK. You can find some of the data on this scientific poster  
  3.  Finally in June 2022, Kromek won first place in NATO’s Allied Command Transformation’s Innovation Challenge awards (Skopje, North Macedonia). You can find more information on the event here and rewatch the pitch day here 


The progress of our project has been presented and discussed at several scientific conferences: 

  1. We presented two posters on our Biosequencer and KAPscan-AT  platforms with a focus on air surveillance and monitoring at the 14th CBRNe Protection Symposium from 20th – 22nd September 2022 in Malmo, Sweden. 
  2.  Kromek presented a poster and our Head of Biotechnology gave a presentation on the diverse future use cases for our technology at the 15th CBRNe Convergence from 31st October – 2nd November 2022 in Boston, USA. 
  3.  We presented a poster showcasing our Novel Concentrator and Sampler at the Annual Aerosol Science Conference from 17th – 18th November 2022 in York, UK 
  4.  We attended as final event of 2022 the Chemical and Biological Defense Science & Technology (CBD S&T) Conference from 6th – 9th December 2022 in San Francisco, USA. Kromek presented and discussed its Bioinformatics efforts on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to identify Zoonotic and Engineered Pathogen ID from Metagenomic Reads and our Biosequencer. 

Future Use Cases

Diagram of all future use cases

Still got more burning questions about Biothreat Detection?

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The following Ted Talk describes the risks from biological weapons, as they are one of the 4 greatest threats!

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