The combination of the generic mobile technology and inherent stability, versatility and cost-effectiveness of the synthetic receptors allows producing optical sensors for potentially any analyte of interest, and, therefore, to qualify as a platform technology for a fast routine analysis of a large number of contaminated samples. To support this statement, we present here a novel miniature sensor based on a combination of molecularly imprinted polymer (MIP) membranes and a smartphone, which could be used for the point-of-care detection of an important food contaminant, oestrogen-like toxin zearalenone associated with Fusarium
contamination of cereals. The detection is based on registration of natural fluorescence of zearalenone using a digital smartphone camera after it binds to the sensor recognition element. The recorded image is further processed using a mobile application. It shows here a first example of the zearalenone-specific MIP membranes synthesised in situ using “dummy template”-based approach with cyclododecyl 2, 4-dihydroxybenzoate as the template and 1-allylpiperazine as a functional monomer. The novel smartphone sensor system based on optimized MIP membranes provides zearalenone detection in cereal samples within the range of 1–10 µg mL−1
demonstrating a detection limit of 1 µg mL−1
in a direct sensing mode. In order to reach the level of sensitivity required for practical application, a competitive sensing mode is also developed. It is based on application of a highly-fluorescent structural analogue of zearalenone (2-[(pyrene-l-carbonyl) amino]ethyl 2,4-dihydroxybenzoate) which is capable to compete with the target mycotoxin for the binding to zearalenone-selective sites in the membrane’s structure. The competitive mode increases 100 times the sensor’s sensitivity and allows detecting zearalenone at 10 ng mL−1
. The linear dynamic range in this case comprised 10–100 ng mL−1
. The sensor system is tested and found effective for zearalenone detection in maize, wheat and rye flour samples both spiked and naturally contaminated. The developed MIP membrane-based smartphone sensor system is an example of a novel, inexpensive tool for food quality analysis, which is portable and can be used for the “field” measurements and easily translated into the practice.
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