Orthogonal paper biosensor for mercury(II) combining bioluminescence and colorimetric smartphone detection

Antonia Lopreside, Laura Montali, Baojun Wang, Annalisa Tassoni, Maura Ferri, Maria Maddalena Calabretta, Elisa Michelini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Mercury contamination in the environment has reached alarming levels. Due to its persistence and bioaccumulation, mercury is one of the most widespread toxic heavy metals found in air, water and food. Thus, it is mandatory to monitor mercury and its compounds, and the availability of sensitive and rapid biosensors is highly valuable.

We developed a low-cost biosensor for orthogonal detection of mercury(II) integrating three different biorecognition principles on a three-leaf paper: i) a mercury-specific bioluminescent Escherichia coli bioreporter strain expressing NanoLuc luciferase as reporter protein, ii) a purified β-galactosidase (β-gal) enzyme which is irreversibly inhibited by mercury and other metal ions, and iii) an Aliivibrio fischeri bioluminescent strain which is used to quantitatively assess sample toxicity and correct the analytical signal accordingly.

Both sensory elements and substrates, Furimazine for the bioluminescent reporter strain and chlorophenol red-β-D-galactopyranoside for colorimetric detection of β-gal, were integrated in the paper sensor to provide a stable all-in-one disposable cartridge which can be easily snapped into a smartphone with a clover-shaped 3D printed housing. This is the first integration of bioluminescence and colorimetric detection on a smartphone-paper sensor, providing a readout within 15 and 60 min for the colorimetric and bioluminescent detection respectively. The biosensor was applied to water samples spiked with different concentrations of mercury, interferents and toxic chemicals providing a limit of detection for Hg(II) at the ppb levels.
Original languageEnglish
Article number113569
JournalBiosensors and Bioelectronics
Early online date20 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • bioluminescence
  • colorimetric
  • paper sensor
  • smartphone
  • mercury


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