Plague is a disease infected by an etiological agent, which is transmitted from fleas to a variety of wildlife rodents. Therefore, rapid diagnosis of plague on-site in the field is important. Polystyrene microspheres (SMs) of 2.2 μm diameter were synthesized by emulsion polymerization to adsorb magnetic nanoparticles (FNs), resulting in core-/shell-structured microspheres that generate a significant contrast in relative permittivities between SMs and FNs. Electrorheological displays (EDs) consisting of two indium tin oxide glasses with spacers were constructed to contain core-/shell-structured SM/FN (SM@FN) solutions for observing their transmittance change. The ED encapsulating dispersed SM@FN solution exhibited an opaque state because light was scattered significantly without the application of an alternating electric field (AEF). In the presence of an AEF, the particle chaining behavior results in enhancement of the transmittance of ED. At a specific frequency, the so-called characteristic frequency (Fc), the transmittance reaches a maximum. Fc could be used as an indicator to mark the shell materials. The antibody of Yersinia pestis (ab-Yp) was coated onto the SM@FN as a biosensing medium. The Fc of ab-Yp-modified microspheres shifted from 200 to 750 kHz with antigen coupling of Y. pestis antigen (ag-Yp). In the absence of fluorescence labeling, the large change in ED transmittance could be visualized during the Y. pestis detection. The limit of detection and the limit of quantification were ∼30 and ∼40 ng/μL, respectively, obtained within 30 s according to the highest transmittance of ED under the AEF at 750 kHz. Y. pestis detection was not affected by Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus significantly. Compared with other common immunoassays, including the secondary immunochemical or enzyme-linked steps, this simple electrorheological sensor with high sensitivity and selectivity could be a candidate for on-site plague diagnosis.
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