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Gold nanoparticles and catalytic DNA produce colormetric lead sensor

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Detecting the presence of hazardous lead paint could become as simple as pressing a piece of paper against a wall and noting a color change.

Scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a highly sensitive and selective biosensor that functions in much the same fashion as a strip of litmus paper. The researchers report their discovery in a paper that has been accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and posted on its Web site. The colorimetric sensor is based upon DNA-gold nanoparticle chemistry, and could be used for sensing a variety of environmental contaminants.

Using gold nanoparticles laced with DNA, Illinois chemistry professor Yi Lu and graduate student Juewen Liu are able to hybridize the nanoparticles into aggregate clusters that have a characteristic blue color. In the presence of a specific metal ion, the catalytic DNA will break off individual gold nanoparticles, resulting in a dramatic color shift to red. The intensity of the color depends upon the initial concentration of contaminant metal ions.

By applying the DNA-gold nanoparticle solution to a substrate, the researchers can create a biosensor that functions in the same manner as litmus paper. "These simple colorimetric sensors eliminate the need for additional instrumentation, and are well suited for on-site, real-time detection and quantification," Lu said.

To obtain the necessary catalytic DNA for their biosensors, Lu and Liu use a combinatorial approach called in vitro selection. Simple and cost-effective, the selection process can sample a very large pool of DNA (up to 1,000 trillion molecules), amplify the desired sequence by the polymerase chain reaction and introduce mutations to improve performance.

While most DNA is double stranded, the catalytic DNA Lu and Liu use has a single strand that can wrap around like a protein. In that single strand, the researchers fashion a
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Contact: James E. Kloeppel, Physical Sciences Editor
Kloeppel@uiuc.edu
217-244-1073
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
14-May-2003


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