We introduce an enzyme-free plasmonic immunoassay with a binary (all-or-none) response. The presence of a single pathogen in the sample results in a chemical cascade reaction leading to a large red to dark-blue colorimetric shift visible to the naked eye. The immediate and amplified response is initiated by a triggered breakdown of cysteine-loaded nanoliposomes and subsequent aggregation of plasmonic gold nanoparticles. Our approach enabled visual detection of a single-digit live pathogen of Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli O157 in water and food samples. Furthermore, the assay allowed a naked-eye detection of target antibody concentrations as low as 6.7 attomolar (600 molecules in 150 μL); six orders of magnitude lower than conventional enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA).
Keywords: Plasmonic colorimetry; foodborne pathogens; gold nanoparticles; immunoassay; liposomes; signal amplification.