U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


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Agricultural Research Magazine 60(4): April 2012 pp. 4-5; ISSN 0002-161X


All that glitters is not gold, but it is in the case of nanotechnology that’s being used to develop detection tools for viruses that affect animals and people. Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service’s Center for Grain and Animal Health Research (CGAHR) in Manhattan, Kansas, and the University of Wyoming are using surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) with gold nanoparticles to design tests that rapidly identify the virus that causes West Nile fever.

The West Nile virus is spread by infected mosquitoesand can cause headaches, fever, and body aches. In some cases, it causes a more serious and sometimes fatal neuroinvasive disease—aseptic meningitis, encephalitis, or acute flaccid paralysis. Symptoms include disorientation, muscle weakness, and paralysis. SERS technology is based on the concept that molecules have their own unique Raman scattering signal—wavelengths that can be detected with a spectroscope. When Raman spectroscopy is used, molecules give off Raman spectra that have sharp peaks, making them more distinguishable than with fluorescence, where molecules emit broad peaks. If a molecule is moved in close proximity to a metal like gold or silver, as with SERS technology, the signal is enhanced maybe up to a millionfold.