A Portable Smart-Phone Readout Device for the Detection of Mercury Contamination Based on an Aptamer-Assay Nanosensor

Sensors (Basel). 2016 Nov 8;16(11):1871. doi: 10.3390/s16111871.


The detection of environmental mercury (Hg) contamination requires complex and expensive instruments and professional technicians. We present a simple, sensitive, and portable Hg2+ detection system based on a smartphone and colorimetric aptamer nanosensor. A smartphone equipped with a light meter app was used to detect, record, and process signals from a smartphone-based microwell reader (MR S-phone), which is composed of a simple light source and a miniaturized assay platform. The colorimetric readout of the aptamer nanosensor is based on a specific interaction between the selected aptamer and Hg2+, which leads to a color change in the reaction solution due to an aggregation of gold nanoparticles (AuNPs). The MR S-phone-based AuNPs-aptamer colorimetric sensor system could reliably detect Hg2+ in both tap water and Pearl River water samples and produced a linear colorimetric readout of Hg2+ concentration in the range of 1 ng/mL-32 ng/mL with a correlation of 0.991, and a limit of detection (LOD) of 0.28 ng/mL for Hg2+. The detection could be quickly completed in only 20 min. Our novel mercury detection assay is simple, rapid, and sensitive, and it provides new strategies for the on-site detection of mercury contamination in any environment.

Keywords: colorimetric aptamer nanosensor; gold nanoparticle; mercury ions; microwell reader; smartphone.

MeSH terms

  • Colorimetry / methods
  • Limit of Detection
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Smartphone*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis


  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Mercury