We all care for the environment and watch it closely because the quality of our lives is linked to environmental health. 

Chemicals released at low levels can accumulate, degrade or interact with other chemicals and adversely affect human health.  Endocrine disrupting chemicals, which mimic steroidal hormones, can adversely affect the health of humans and animals.  Natural water systems, our source for drinking water, are especially important to monitor for endocrine disrupting chemicals.

When faced with an environmental spill where toxins have entered a water source, researchers may be hampered because they may have to guess what contaminants have entered the water and determine which locations are important to monitor. The amount of time and effort to collect data increases as the number of samples collected and the chemicals test for is increased. It would be more efficient to have a single test that could test for a variety of contaminants.

The goal of the seed project is to provide new tools for scientists to study and monitor the environment using label-free environmental sensing of toxic small molecule contaminants.  The researchers use molecular recognition elements made of DNA, called aptamers, for this purpose. 

 Aptamers are excellent sensing elements because they are stable and undergo thermally dependant reversible binding.  The aptamer sensing is combined with a separation-based assay that simultaneously detects multiple analytes in a single run.  In this approach, the aptamers capture molecules that are relevant to monitoring environmental health, the captured molecules are released and then rapidly separated and detected in a capillary.




Molecular recognition elements made of DNA called aptamers are selected from a large library of different DNA sequences (panel A).  Aptamers are generated with selectivity for different chemicals relevant to the environment and then used to bind to the chemical targets (panel B).  Chemicals captured by aptamers are measured using a separation-based assay to simultaneously determine multiple analyte in a single assay (panel C).

Lisa Holland1 and Letha Sooter2
2C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV 26506-6045
2Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center, School of Pharmacy, Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences, Morgantown, WV 26506-9530