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  1. Small molecule contaminants pose a significant threat to the environment and human health. While regulations are in place for allowed limits in many countries, detection and remediation of contaminants in more resource-limited settings and everyday environmental sources remains a challenge. Functional nucleic acids, including aptamers and DNA enzymes, have emerged as powerful options for addressing this challenge due to their ability to non-covalently interact with small molecule targets. The goal of this perspective is to outline recent efforts toward the selection of aptamers for small molecules and describe their subsequent implementation for environmental applications. Finally, we provide an outlook that addresses barriers that hinder these technologies from being widely adopted in field friendly settings and propose a path forward toward addressing these challenges.
  2. Aptamers are widely employed as recognition elements in small molecule biosensors due to their ability to recognize small molecule targets with high affinity and selectivity. Structure-switching aptamers are particularly promising for biosensing applications because target-induced conformational change can be directly linked to a functional output. However, traditional evolution methods do not select for the significant conformational change needed to create structure-switching biosensors. Modified selection methods have been described to select for structure-switching architectures, but these remain limited by the need for immobilization. Herein we describe the first homogenous, structure-switching aptamer selection that directly reports on biosensor capacity for the target. We exploit the activity of restriction enzymes to isolate aptamer candidates that undergo target-induced displacement of a short complementary strand. As an initial demonstration of the utility of this approach, we performed selection against kanamycin A. Four enriched candidate sequences were successfully characterized as structure-switching biosensors for detection of kanamycin A. Optimization of biosensor conditions afforded facile detection of kanamycin A (90 μM to 10 mM) with high selectivity over three other aminoglycosides. This research demonstrates a general method to directly select for structure-switching biosensors and can be applied to a broad range of small-molecule targets.