Recent advances in the development of ultrasensitive micromechanical thermal detectors have led to the advent of novel subfemtojoule microcalorimetric spectroscopy (CalSpec). On the basis of principles of photothermal IR spectroscopy combined with efficient thermomechanical transduction, CalSpec provides acquisition of vibrational spectra of microscopic samples and absorbates. We use CalSpec as a method of identifying nanogram quantities of biological micro-organisms. Our studies focus on Bacillus subtilis and Bacillus cereus spores as simulants for Bacillus anthracis spores. Using CalSpec, we measured IR spectra of B. subtilis and B. cereus spores present on surfaces in nanogram quantities (approximately 100–1000 spores). The spectra acquired in the wavelength range of 690–4000 cm-1 (2.5–14.5 μm) contain information-rich vibrational signatures that reflect the different ratios of biochemical makeup of the micro-organisms. The distinctive features in the spectra obtained for the two types of micro-organism can be used to distinguish between the spores of the Bacillus family. As compared with conventional IR and Fourier-transform IR microscopic spectroscopy techniques, the advantages of the present technique include significantly improved sensitivity (at least a full order of magnitude), absence of expensive IR detectors, and excellent potential for miniaturization.
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