Autoinducer (AI) molecules are used by quorum sensing (QS) bacteria to communicate information about their environment and are critical to their ability to coordinate certain physiological activities. Studying how these organisms react to environmental stresses could provide insight into methods to control these activities. To this end, we are investigating spectroscopic methods of analysis that allow in situ measurements of these AI molecules under different environmental conditions. We found that for one class of AIs, N-acyl-homoserine lactones (AHLs), surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) is a method capable of performing such measurements in situ. SERS spectra of seven different AHLs with acyl chain lengths from 4 to 12 carbons were collected for the first time using Ag colloidal nanoparticles synthesized via both citrate and borohydride reduction methods. Strong SERS spectra were obtained in as little as 10 seconds for 80 μM solutions of AI that exhibited the strongest SERS response, whereas 20 seconds was typical for most AI SERS spectra collected during this study. Although all spectra were similar, significant differences were detected in the SERS spectra of C4-AHL and 3-oxo-C6-AHL and more subtle differences were noted between all AHLs. Initial results indicate a detection limit of ∼10−6M for C6-AHL, which is within the limits of biologically relevant concentrations of AI molecules (nM–μM). Based on these results, the SERS method shows promise for monitoring AI molecule concentrations in situ, within biofilms containing QS bacteria. This new capability offers the possibility to "listen in" on chemical communications between bacteria in their natural environment as that environment is stressed.
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