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Sensing Environmental Danger with DNA

NSF Award:

Bionanotechnology for Public Security and Environmental Safety  (Higher Education Policy Commission)

Congressional Districts:
Research Areas:

Quality of life is linked to environmental health. When endocrine-disrupting chemicals that mimic steroidal hormones enter the environment, they can adversely affect humans and animals. Natural water systems, a major source of drinking water, are especially vulnerable to these chemicals.

Field sensors that monitor heavy metals, pathogens and other threats in real time are crucial to safeguarding the environment. Researchers at West Virginia University have developed biosensors that detect chemicals released at low levels into the environment, giving advance warning of potential hazards.

The research, funded by NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, uses aptamers (DNA-carrying molecules) to capture and detect molecules relevant to environmental health. The process can identify multiple toxins in a single test.

This research is part of a larger effort to establish a nationally recognized Center for Bionano-technology at West Virginia University.




  • the sequence describes how aptamers target and identify chemicals
Aptamer selection (A), chemical binding (B) and assay identification (C).
Lisa Holland, West Virginia University

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