A rapid SERS method for label-free bacteria detection using polyethylenimine-modified Au-coated magnetic microspheres and Au@Ag nanoparticles†
A rapid, sensitive, and label-free SERS detection method for bacteria pathogens is reported for the first time. The method, which is based on the combination of polyethylenimine (PEI)-modified Au-coated magnetic microspheres (Fe3O4@Au@PEI) and concentrated Au@Ag nanoparticles (NPs), was named the capture–enrichment–enhancement (CEE) three-step method. A novel Fe3O4@Au microsphere with monodispersity and strong magnetic responsiveness was synthesized as a magnetic SERS substrate and amino functionalized by PEI self-assembly. The negatively charged bacteria were quickly captured and enriched by the positively charged Fe3O4@Au@PEI microspheres, and the bacteria SERS signal was synergistically enhanced by using Fe3O4@Au@PEI microspheres and Au@Ag NPs in conjunction. The CEE three-step method proved useful in tap water and milk samples, and the total assay time required was only 10 min. Results further demonstrated that the CEE three-step method could be a common approach for detecting a wide range of bacteria, as verified by its detection of the Gram-positive bacterium E. coli and Gram-positive bacterium S. aureus at a detection limit of as low as 103 cells per mL. Therefore, our CEE three-step method offered the significant advantages of short assay time, simple operating procedure, and higher sensitivity than previously reported methods of SERS-based bacteria detection.