Dr Stephen Trowell

Dr Stephen Trowell.

Dr Stephen Trowell: developing biosensor technology

Dr Stephen Trowell leads a team developing biosensor technologies with applications across food, health and biosecurity.

  • 13 June 2008 | Updated 13 July 2012

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History


Page 1 of 2

Current activities

Dr Stephen Trowell is Theme Leader for Quality Biosensors, for the Food Futures National Research Flagship.

The research team is working to develop biosensor technology with applications across food, health and biosecurity.

This research aims to co-opt the olfactory receptors of insects and worms to develop sensor technologies that meet the need for rapid, on-site, highly sensitive, specific and quantitative measurement of odorants and for pattern-matching of complex odours.

The project aims to create a technology with applications across the food supply chain, healthcare, pest control, animal production, biosecurity and defence.

Dr Trowell was the foundation leader of the team established by CSIRO to develop a Cybernose based on the chemical senses of insects and worms.

His group has identified, isolated and characterised odorant receptors from a variety of sources, including Drosophila, silk moth and the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

The odorant receptors are used as the sensor elements of the Cybernose. Work is in progress to link the activation of these sensors to an electronic instrument and to develop systems for interpreting the olfactory patterns that are recorded.

Dr Trowell was appointed a Theme Leader in the Quality Biosensors Theme in 2005. He has extensive experience in patenting and Intellectual Property (IP) management and has been closely involved in licensing various CSIRO-developed technologies.

Dr. Trowell leads research to improve chemical sensing with applications across the food supply chain, healthcare, pest control, animal production, biosecurity and defence.


In 1989, Dr Trowell was awarded an Australian Research Council's National Research Fellowship to work on juvenile hormone receptors of sheep blowfly. He took up this Fellowship at CSIRO Entomology.

In parallel with his work on blowflies, Dr Trowell led the team from CSIRO and NSW Department of Agriculture that developed the Heliothis Identification Kit (marketed by Abbott Laboratories in Australia from 1993 to 2001 as the LepTon™ Test Kit). 

This was a novel application of immunodiagnostic technology to field management of insect pests. It allowed farmers to obtain statistically valid population estimates for different species of Heliothis/ Helicoverpa at the egg and larval stages.

For a number of years, cotton growers used this information to tailor insecticide sprays to their specific pest problems, until the technology was made redundant by the widespread adoption of insect resistant transgenic cotton.

Dr Trowell's previous activities also include:

  • cloning and characterisation of the major lipid carrier proteins in insect haemolymph
  • characterisation of nematode nicotinoid receptors
  • development of methods for routine functional expression of novel genes and dsRNA hairpin constructs in nematode worms.

Academic qualifications

Dr Trowell was awarded a Bachelor of Arts with Honours from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (UK), in 1980, followed by a Master of Science from the University of Manchester, UK, in 1982.

Dr Trowell was awarded his doctorate in 1987 for his work on invertebrate visual transduction, research he continued as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.

He is also a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors course and has completed a Defence Science and Technology Organisation's Executive Leadership Course.


Dr Trowell has received the following awards:

  • travel bursary of the Japan Society for Cell Biology
  • Australian Research Council (ARC) National Research Fellowship.

From 1997-2000, Dr Trowell led the CSIRO team that assembled the world's most diverse library of insect extracts and screened them for antibiotic and anticancer activity.

With financial and business development support from the joint venture partner, Biodiscovery Ltd, a number of novel antibiotics were discovered and the library was screened for agrochemicals by a major multinational chemical company.

Dr Trowell also led a team that identified novel anthelmintic compounds and their targets in nematode worms.

Find out more about the work of the Food Futures Flagship.