Research Lab

Biomolecular Engineering

Biomolecular Engineering
Research Interests

Our group is dedicated to the design and discovery of peptidomimetics and to the development of functional materials, which together find applications in Bioseparation, Biocatalysis, Sensing & Diagnostics, and Nanomedicine.

The main topics of research involve:

  1. Hybrid materials in gas sensing and volatolomics.

  2. Functional materials towards alternative puri cation processes, namely magnetically triggered bioseparations and crystallization.

  3. Development of biological and synthetic peptidomimetics for capture and release of biological molecules, including biopharmaceuticals.

Research Highlights
Gas-sensing hybrid gels for artificial olfaction



Electronic noses (e-noses) mimic the biological olfactory system. They comprise of an array of gas-sensitive materials with partial selectivity coupled to pattern recognition systems, being able to recognize simple or complex odors.

Our lab developed new gas-sensitive hybrid gels which generate dual signal (optical and electrical) in the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Each individual component can be varied and acts cooperatively to tune gels’ structure and function (patent). The combinatorial nature of the gels can tune VOCs selectivity. Gelatinbased gas sensing gels were used in a tailor-made e-nose device (Pádua, A.C.C.S. et al., Proc. 11th Int. Jt. Conf. Biomed. Eng. Syst. Technol., 2018, 48-55), and tested to distinguish different VOCs, showing the potential for the discrimination of distinct odors.

We provided a proof-of-concept towards the quantification of ethanol in automotive fuel and early identification of fresh fish quality deterioration. (Hussain A. et al., Adv. Funct. Mater. 2017, 27, 1700803; Semeano, A.T.S. et al., Food Control 2018, 89, 72)

highlight 1
Concept for multilayer pHsensitive MNPs to achieve preferential interactions with tumoral cells
Machine learning- powered pathogen VOC-signatures



highlight 2Non-invasive and fast diagnostic devices exploring the volatolomics of human microbial pathogens hold great promise in the control of infectious diseases. To develop such devices, the determination of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) with power to identify microbial pathogen species is a crucial task.

We established the first comprehensive pathogen-VOC database that compiles information relating human microbial pathogens with VOCs released. Automatic classifiers based in supervised machine learning and features selection were implemented and applied to the subset of the pathogen-VOC database corresponding to the 11 most studied pathogens (8 are considered a global world threat by the WHO). T

his led to the finding of small sets of VOCs (<20 compounds) that can be searched for in samples to predict the identity of the contaminating pathogen. The sets of VOCs found in this work may be important compounds for the research on infection detection tools. Namely, these VOCs can be the targets needed to increase the selectivity of future gas sensors and electronic noses. (Palma, S.I.C.J. et al., Sci. Rep. 2018, 8, 3360)

Representative Projects

  • “Sea2See: Bio-inspired materials for fish spoilage control”, FCT-MCTES, Total and Unit funding: €248,604, Cecília Roque (PI).
  • “ACCuseD - ACCuseD renAl Cell Carcinoma Detection Renal Cancer detection: a translational metabolomics research based on Volatile Organic Compounds fingerprinting”, FCT-MCTES, Total funding: €239,499, Unit funding: €11,633, Cecília Roque & Arménio Barbosa (Collaborators)
  • “SCENT: Hybrid gels for rapid microbial detection”, EC-ERC, Total funding: €1.5M, Unit funding: €1.5M, Cecília Roque (PI).
  • “Viral Capture and Puri cation System: Smart macroporous structures for the af nity puri cation of retroviral particles”, FCT-MCTES, Total funding: €147,000, Unit funding: €121,200, Cecília Roque (PI).
  • “CHImerASE – Integrated platform for de novo design and development of a chimeric enzyme for high-value chemicals”, EC- ERA-IB,Total funding: €328,846, Unit funding: €99,996, Ricardo Branco (PI), Cecília Roque (Collaborator).

Selected Publications

Semeano, ATS; Maffei, DF; Palma, S; Li, RWC; Franco, BDGM; Roque, ACA; Gruber, J. 2018. Tilapia fish microbial spoilage monitored by a single optical gas sensor. FOOD CONTROL, 89, DOI: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2018.01.025
Palma, SICJ; Traguedo, AP; Porteira, AR; Frias, MJ; Gamboa, H; Roque, ACA. 2018. Machine learning for the meta-analyses of microbial pathogens' volatile signatures. Scientific Reports, 8, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-21544-1
Dias, AMGC; Roque, ACA. 2017. The future of protein scaffolds as affinity reagents for purification. BIOTECHNOLOGY AND BIOENGINEERING, 114, DOI: 10.1002/bit.26090
Hussain, A; Semeano, ATS; Palma, SICJ; Pina, AS; Almeida, J; Medrado, BF; Padua, ACCS; Carvalho, AL; Dionisio, M; Li, RWC; Gamboa, H; Ulijn, RV; Gruber, J; Roque, ACA. 2017. Tunable Gas Sensing Gels by Cooperative Assembly. ADVANCED FUNCTIONAL MATERIALS, 27, DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201700803
Palma, SICJ; Roque, ACA. 2017. Hybrid Magnetic-Polymeric Iron Oxide Nanoprobes for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. JOURNAL OF NANOSCIENCE AND NANOTECHNOLOGY, 17, DOI: 10.1166/jnn.2017.14191