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In vivo surface-enhanced Raman scattering nanosensor for the real-time monitoring of multiple stress signalling molecules in plants

When under stress, plants release molecules to activate their defense system. Detecting these stress-related molecules offers the possibility to address stress conditions and prevent the development of diseases. However, detecting endogenous signalling molecules in living plants remains challenging due to low concentrations of these analytes and interference with other compounds; additionally, many methods currently used are invasive and labour-intensive. Here we show a non-destructive surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS)-based nanoprobe for the real-time detection of multiple stress-related endogenous molecules in living plants. The nanoprobe, which is placed in the intercellular space, is optically active in the near-infrared region (785 nm) to avoid interferences from plant autofluorescence. It consists of a Si nanosphere surrounded by a corrugated Ag shell modified by a water-soluble cationic polymer poly(diallyldimethylammonium chloride), which can interact with multiple plant signalling molecules. We measure a SERS enhancement factor of 2.9 × 107 and a signal-to-noise ratio of up to 64 with an acquisition time of ~100 ms. To show quantitative multiplex detection, we adopted a binding model to interpret the SERS intensities of two different analytes bound to the SERS hot spot of the nanoprobe. Under either abiotic or biotic stress, our optical nanosensors can successfully monitor salicylic acid, extracellular adenosine triphosphate, cruciferous phytoalexin and glutathione in Nasturtium officinaleTriticum aestivum L. and Hordeum vulgare L.—all stress-related molecules indicating the possible onset of a plant disease. We believe that plasmonic nanosensor platforms can enable the early diagnosis of stress, contributing to a timely disease management of plants.