As the key constituents of the genetic code, the importance of nucleic acids to life has long been appreciated. Despite being composed of only four structurally similar nucleotides, single-stranded nucleic acids, as in single-stranded DNAs and RNAs, can fold into distinct three-dimensional shapes due to specific intramolecular interactions and carry out functions beyond serving as templates for protein synthesis. These functional nucleic acids (FNAs) can catalyze chemical reactions, regulate gene expression, and recognize target molecules. Aptamers, whose name is derived from the Latin word aptus
meaning “to fit”, are oligonucleotides that can bind their target ligands with high affinity and specificity. Since aptamers exist in nature but can also be artificially isolated from pools of random nucleic acids through a process called in vitro
selection, they can potentially bind a diverse array of compounds. In this review, we will discuss the research that is being done to develop aptamers against various biomolecules, the progress in engineering biosensors by coupling aptamers to signal transducers, and the prospect of employing these sensors for a range of chemical and biological applications. Advances in aptamer technology emphasizes that nucleic acids are not only the fundamental molecules of life, they can also serve as research tools to enhance our understanding of life. The possibility of using aptamer-based tools in drug discovery and the identification of infectious agents can ultimately augment our quality of life.