Nature communications

Ultrasensitive visual read-out of nucleic acids using electrocatalytic fluid displacement.

PMID 25901450


Diagnosis of disease outside of sophisticated laboratories urgently requires low-cost, user-friendly devices. Disposable, instrument-free testing devices are used for home and physician office testing, but are limited in applicability to a small class of highly abundant analytes. Direct, unambiguous visual read-out is an ideal way to deliver a result on a disposable device; however, existing strategies that deliver appropriate sensitivity produce only subtle colour changes. Here we report a new approach, which we term electrocatalytic fluid displacement, where a molecular binding event is transduced into an electrochemical current, which drives the electrodeposition of a metal catalyst. The catalyst promotes bubble formation that displaces a fluid to reveal a high contrast change. We couple the read-out system to a nanostructured microelectrode and demonstrate direct visual detection of 100 fM DNA in 10 min. This represents the lowest limit of detection of nucleic acids reported using high contrast visual read-out.