Label-Free Bacterial Toxin Detection in Water Supplies Using Porous Silicon Nanochannel Sensors

Nekane Reta, Andrew Michelmore, Christopher P. Saint, Beatriz Prieto-Simon, Nicolas H. Voelcker

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Lipopolysaccharides (LPS) are the major component of the outer membrane of all Gram-negative bacteria and some cyanobacteria and are released during growth and cell death. LPS pose a potential health risk in water, causing acute respiratory illnesses, inhalation fever, and gastrointestinal disorders. The need for rapid and accurate detection of LPS has become a major priority to facilitate more timely and efficacious intervention and, hence, avoid unsafe water distribution. In this context, a porous silicon membrane (pSiM)-based electrochemical biosensor was developed for direct and sensitive detection of LPS. pSiM, featuring arrays of nanochannels, was modified with polymyxin B (PmB), an antimicrobial peptide with strong affinity to LPS. Detection of LPS was based on measuring the changes in the diffusion through the nanochannels of an electroactive species added in solution, caused by the nanochannel blockage upon LPS binding to PmB. Results showed a limit of detection of 1.8 ng/mL, and a linear response up to 10,000 ng/mL spiked in buffer. Selectivity of the sensor toward potential interfering species in water supplies was also assessed. Sensor performance was then evaluated in water samples from a water treatment plant (WTP), and detection of LPS well below the levels encountered in episodes of water contamination and in humidifiers was demonstrated. The same platform was also tested for bacterial detection including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Escherichia coli spiked in water samples from a WTP. Considering its performance characteristics, this platform represents a promising screening tool to identify the presence of LPS in water supplies and provide early warning of contamination events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1515-1523
Number of pages9
JournalACS Sensors
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2019


  • bacterial contamination
  • electrochemical biosensor
  • endotoxins
  • label-free detection
  • lipopolysaccharides
  • polymyxin
  • porous silicon

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