Nucleases are ubiquitous enzymes that degrade DNA or RNA, thus they can prejudice the good outcome of molecular biology experiments involving nucleic acids. We propose a colorimetric test for the naked-eye detection of nuclease contaminations. The system uses an hybrid nanosensor, based on gold nanoparticles functionalized with DNA probes. Our assay is rapid, instrument-free, simple and low-cost. Moreover, it reaches sensitivity equal or better than those of commercial kits, and presents a lot of advantageous aspects. Therefore, it is very competitive, with a real market potential. This test will be relevant in routine process monitoring in scientific laboratories, and in quality control in clinical laboratories and industrial processes, allowing the simultaneous detection of nucleases with different substrate specificities and large-scale screening.
Traditional in vitro diagnostics requires specialized laboratories and costly instrumentation, both for the amplification of nucleic acid targets (usually achieved by PCR) and for the assay readout, often based on fluorescence. We are developing hybrid nanomaterials-based sensors for the rapid and low-cost diagnosis of various disease biomarkers, for applications in portable platforms for diagnostics at the point-of-care. To this aim, we exploited the size and distancedependent optical properties of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) to achieve colorimetric detection. Moreover, in order to avoid the complexity of thermal cycles associated to traditional PCR, the design of our systems includes signal amplification schemes, achieved by the use of enzymes (nucleases, helicase) or DNAzymes. Focused on instrument-free and sensitive detection, we carefully combined the intrinsic sensitivity by multivalency of functionalized AuNPs with isothermal and non-stringent enzyme-aided reaction conditions, controlled AuNPs aggregates, universal reporters and magnetic microparticles, the latter used both as a substrate and as a means for the colorimetric detection. We obtained simple and robust assays for the sensitive (pM range or better) naked-eye detection of cancer or infectious diseases (HPV, HCV) biomarkers, requiring no instrumentation except for a simple heating plate. Finally, we are also developing non-medical applications of these bio-nanosensors, such as in the development of on-field rapid tests for the detection of pollutants and other food and water contaminants.