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Differentiating a Diverse Range of Volatile Organic Compounds with Polyfluorophore Sensors Built on a DNA Scaffold



Oligodeoxyfluorosides (ODFs) are short DNA-like oligomers in which DNA bases are replaced with fluorophores. A preliminary study reported that some sequences of ODFs were able to respond to a few organic small molecules in the vapor phase, giving a change in fluorescence. Here, we follow up on this finding by investigating a larger range of volatile organic analytes, and a considerably larger set of sensors. A library of tetramer ODFs of 2401 different sequences was prepared by using combinatorial methods, and was screened in air for fluorescence responses to a set of ten different volatile organics, including multiple aromatic and aliphatic compounds, acids and bases, varied functional groups, and closely related structures. Nineteen responding sensors were selected and characterized. These sensors were cross-screened against all ten analytes, and responses were measured qualitatively (by changes in color and intensity) and quantitatively (by measuring ΔR, ΔG, and ΔB values averaged over five to six sensor beads; R=red, G=green, B=blue). The results show that sensor responses were diverse, with a single sensor responding differently to as many as eight of the ten analytes; multiple classes of responses were seen, including quenching, lighting-up, and varied shifts in wavelength. Responses were strong, with raw ΔR, ΔG, and ΔB values of as high as >200 on a 256-unit scale and unamplified changes in many cases apparent to the naked eye. Sensors were identified that could distinguish clearly between even very closely related compounds such as acrolein and acrylonitrile. Statistical methods were applied to select a small set of four sensors that, as a pattern response, could distinguish between all ten analytes with high confidence. Sequence analysis of the full set of sensors suggested that sequence/order of the monomer components, and not merely composition, was highly important in the responses.