Enhancing Sensitivity and Selectivity of Long-Period Grating Sensors using Structure-Switching Aptamers Bound to Gold-Doped Macroporous Silica Coatings
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High surface area, sol-gel derived macroporous silica films doped with gold nanoparticles (AuNP) are used as a platform for high-density affinity-based immobilization of functional structure-switching DNA aptamer molecules onto Michelson interferometer long-period grating (LPG) fiber sensors, allowing for label-free detection of small molecular weight analytes such as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The high surface area afforded by the sol-gel derived material allowed high loading of DNA aptamers, while the inclusion of gold nanoparticles within the silica film provided a high refractive index (RI) overlay, which is required to enhance the sensitivity of the LPG sensor according to our numerical simulations. By using a structure-switching aptamer construct that could release an oligonucleotide upon binding of ATP, the effective change in RI was both enhanced and inverted (i.e., binding of ATP caused a net reduction in molecular weight and refractive index), resulting in a system that prevented signals originating from nonspecific binding. This is the first report on the coupling of aptamers to LPG fiber sensors and the first use of high RI AuNP/silica films as supports to immobilize biomolecules onto the LPG sensor surface. The dual functionality of such films to both improve binding density and LPG sensor cladding refractive index results in a substantial enhancement in the sensitivity of such sensors for small molecule detection.
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