A study on the application of surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) in detecting biological threats is here reported. Simulants of deadly Bacillus anthracis
endospores were used. This study proposes an automated device where SERS is used as a fast, pre-alarm technique of a two-stage sensor equipped with a real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In order to check the potentialities of SERS in terms of sensitivity and specificity for on-site, real-time, automatic detection and identification of biological agents, two strains of genetically and harmless closely B. anthracis
-related spores, Bacillus thuringiensis
and Bacillus atrophaeus
, were used as simulants. In order to assure the selectivity of the SERS substrate against B. thuringiensis
spores, the substrate was functionalized by specific peptides. The obtained SERS measurements are classified as positive or negative hits by applying a special data evaluation based on the Euclidian distance between each spectrum and a reference spectrum of blank measurement. Principal component analysis (PCA) was applied for discriminating between different strains representing dangerous and harmless spores. The results show that the SERS sensor is capable of detecting a few tenths of spores in a few minutes, and is particularly sensitive and fast for this purpose. Post-process analysis of the spectra allowed for discrimination between the contaminated and uncontaminated SERS sensors and even between different strains of spores, although not as clearly. For this purpose, the use of a non-functionalized SERS substrate is suggested.
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