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Using polymeric materials to generate an amplified response to molecular recognition events


Clinical and field-portable diagnostic devices require the detection of atto- to zeptomoles of biological molecules rapidly, easily and at low cost, with stringent requirements in terms of robustness and reliability. Though a number of creative approaches to this difficult problem have been reported1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9, numerous unmet needs remain in the marketplace, particularly in resource-poor settings10,11,12. Using rational materials design, we investigated harnessing the amplification inherent in a radical chain polymerization reaction to detect molecular recognition. Polymerization-based amplification is shown to yield a macroscopically observable polymer, easily visible to the unaided eye, as a result of as few as 1,000 recognition events (10 zeptomoles). Design and synthesis of a dual-functional macromolecule that is capable both of selective recognition and of initiating a polymerization reaction was central to obtaining high sensitivity and eliminating the need for any detection equipment. Herein, we detail the design criteria that were used and compare our findings with those obtained using enzymatic amplification. Most excitingly, this new approach is general in that it is readily adaptable to facile detection at very low levels of specific biological interactions of any kind.

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Figure 1: Conceptual depiction of detection using polymerization-based signal amplification.
Figure 2: Design and synthesis of molecules to enable polymerization following a binding event.
Figure 3: Polymerization for signal amplification following a binding event.
Figure 4: Quantification of the number of binding events necessary for a macroscopic, visible response using a 3×3 dilution array of biotinylated oligonucleotides.


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H.D.S. acknowledges support from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NSRA F32-HG003100) and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (Career Award at the Scientific Interface). R.R.H., L.M.J., K.L.R. and C.N.B. acknowledge support from NSF SGER 0442047 and NIH R41 AI060057. Thin-film biosensors, buffers and enzymatic detection reagents were generously provided by Inverness Medical-Biostar.

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K.L.R., J.W.B. and C.N.B. came up with the concept, C.N.B., H.D.S. and R.J. designed the experiments, H.D.S., R.R.H. and L.M.J. performed the experiments and H.D.S., C.N.B. and R.J. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Christopher N. Bowman.

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Sikes, H., Hansen, R., Johnson, L. et al. Using polymeric materials to generate an amplified response to molecular recognition events. Nature Mater 7, 52–56 (2008).

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