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Hybrid Nucleic Acid-Quantum Dot Assemblies as Multiplexed Reporter Platforms for Cell-Free Transcription Translation-Based Biosensors

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-11-28, 20:00 authored by Divita Mathur, Meghna Thakur, Sebastián A. Díaz, Kimihiro Susumu, Michael H. Stewart, Eunkeu Oh, Scott A. Walper, Igor L. Medintz
Cell-free synthetic biology has emerged as a valuable tool for the development of rapid, portable biosensors that can be readily transported in the freeze-dried form to the point of need eliminating cold chain requirements. One of the challenges associated with cell-free sensors is the ability to simultaneously detect multiple analytes within a single reaction due to the availability of a limited set of fluorescent and colorimetric reporters. To potentially provide multiplexing capabilities to cell-free biosensors, we designed a modular semiconductor quantum dot (QD)-based reporter platform that is plugged in downstream of the transcription-translation functionality in the cell-free reaction and which converts enzymatic activity in the reaction into distinct optical signals. We demonstrate proof of concept by converting restriction enzyme activity, utilized as our prototypical sensing output, into optical changes across several distinct spectral output channels that all use a common excitation wavelength. These hybrid Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET)-based QD peptide PNA-DNA-Dye reporters (QD-PDDs) are completely self-assembled and consist of differentially emissive QD donors paired to a dye-acceptor displayed on a unique DNA encoding a given enzyme’s cleavage site. Three QD-based PDDs, independently activated by the enzymes BamHI, EcoRI, and NcoI, were prototyped in mixed enzyme assays where all three demonstrated the ability to convert enzymatic activity into fluorescent output. Simultaneous monitoring of each of the three paired QD-donor dye-acceptor spectral channels in cell-free biosensing reactions supplemented with added linear genes encoding each enzyme confirmed robust multiplexing capabilities for at least two enzymes when co-expressed. The modular QD-PDDs are easily adapted to respond to other restriction enzymes or even proteases if desired.