We have developed a robust method for the visual detection of heavy metal ions (such as Hg2+ and Pb2+) by using aptamer-functionalized colloidal photonic crystal hydrogel (CPCH) films. The CPCHs were derived from a colloidal crystal array of monodisperse silica nanoparticles, which were polymerized within the polyacrylamide hydrogel. The heavy metal ion-responsive aptamers were then cross-linked in the hydrogel network. During detection, the specific binding of heavy metal ions and cross-linked single-stranded aptamers in the hydrogel network caused the hydrogel to shrink, which was detected as a corresponding blue shift in the Bragg diffraction peak position of the CPCHs. The shift value could be used to estimate, quantitatively, the amount of the target ion. It was demonstrated that our CPCH aptasensor could screen a wide concentration range of heavy metal ions with high selectivity and reversibility. In addition, these aptasensors could be rehydrated from dried gels for storage and aptamer protection. It is anticipated that our technology may also be used in the screening of a broad range of metal ions in food, drugs and the environment.
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