A catalytic beacon sensor for uranium with parts-per-trillion sensitivity and millionfold selectivity

Juewen Liu, Andrea K. Brown, Xiangli Meng, Donald M. Cropek, Jonathan D. Istok, David B. Watson, Yi Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Here, we report a catalytic beacon sensor for uranyl (UO2 2+) based on an in vitro-selected UO22+- specific DNAzyme. The sensor consists of a DNA enzyme strand with a 3′ quencher and a DNA substrate with a ribonucleotide adenosine (rA) in the middle and a fluorophore and a quencher at the 5′ and 3′ ends, respectively. The presence of UO22+ causes catalytic cleavage of the DNA substrate strand at the rA position and release of the fluorophore and thus dramatic increase of fluorescence intensity. The sensor has a detection limit of 11 parts per trillion (45 pM), a dynamic range up to 400 nM, and selectivity of >1-million-fold over other metal ions. The most interfering metal ion, Th(IV), interacts with the fluorescein fluorophore, causing slightly enhanced fluorescence intensity, with an apparent dissociation constant of ≈230 μM. This sensor rivals the most sensitive analytical instruments for uranium detection, and its application in detecting uranium in contaminated soil samples is also demonstrated. This work shows that simple, cost-effective, and portable metal sensors can be obtained with similar sensitivity and selectivity as much more expensive and sophisticated analytical instruments. Such a sensor will play an important role in environmental remediation of radionuclides such as uranium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2056-2061
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 13 2007


  • Catalytic DNA
  • Deoxyribozyme
  • DNA
  • DNAzyme
  • Fluorescence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • General


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