Biomimetic virus-based colourimetric sensors

Jin Woo Oh, Woo Jae Chung, Kwang Heo, Hyo Eon Jin, Byung Yang Lee, Eddie Wang, Chris Zueger, Winnie Wong, Joel Meyer, Chuntae Kim, So Young Lee, Won Geun Kim, Marcin Zemla, Manfred Auer, Alexander Hexemer, Seung Wuk Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

210 Citations (Scopus)


Many materials in nature change colours in response to stimuli, making them attractive for use as sensor platform. However, both natural materials and their synthetic analogues lack selectivity towards specific chemicals, and introducing such selectivity remains a challenge. Here we report the self-assembly of genetically engineered viruses (M13 phage) into target-specific, colourimetric biosensors. The sensors are composed of phage-bundle nanostructures and exhibit viewing-angle independent colour, similar to collagen structures in turkey skin. On exposure to various volatile organic chemicals, the structures rapidly swell and undergo distinct colour changes. Furthermore, sensors composed of phage displaying trinitrotoluene (TNT)-binding peptide motifs identified from a phage display selectively distinguish TNT down to 300 p.p.b. over similarly structured chemicals. Our tunable, colourimetric sensors can be useful for the detection of a variety of harmful toxicants and pathogens to protect human health and national security.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3043
JournalNature communications
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jan 21

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was performed under the supports of the Center of Integrated Nano-mechanical Systems (COINS) of the National Science Foundation (grant number EEC-0832819). S.-W.L. acknowledges the support from Defense Acquisition Program Administration and Agency for Defense Development under the contract (ADD-10-70-06-02) in South Korea. J.-W.O. acknowledges the support by Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (2013R1A1A1008276) and the support by the Pioneer Research Center Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Science, ICT & Future Planning (NRF-2013M3C1A3065522). This work is also supported in part by the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT)’s Global Research Outreach (GRO) Program. We thank Valerie Burtchett for the Turkey images.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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