Bacterial infectious diseases are a major threat to human health. Timely and sensitive pathogenic bacteria detection is crucial in bacterial contaminations identification and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Due to limitations of conventional bacteria detection techniques there have been concerted research efforts towards developing new biosensors. Biosensors offering label-free, whole bacteria detection are highly desirable over those relying on label-based or pathogenic molecular components detection. The major advantage is eliminating the additional time and cost required for labeling or extracting the desired bacterial components. Here, we demonstrate rapid, sensitive and label-free Escherichia coli (E. coli) detection utilizing interferometric reflectance imaging enhancement allowing visualizing individual pathogens captured on the surface. Enabled by our ability to count individual bacteria on a large sensor surface, we demonstrate an extrapolated limit of detection of 2.2 CFU/ml from experimental data in buffer solution with no sample preparation. To the best of our knowledge, this level of sensitivity for whole E. coli detection is unprecedented in label-free biosensing. The specificity of our biosensor is validated by comparing the response to target bacteria E. coli and non-target bacteria S. aureus, K. pneumonia and P. aeruginosa. The biosensor’s performance in tap water proves that its detection capability is unaffected by the sample complexity. Furthermore, our sensor platform provides high optical magnification imaging and thus validation of recorded detection events as the target bacteria based on morphological characterization. Therefore, our sensitive and label-free detection method offers new perspectives for direct bacterial detection in real matrices and clinical samples.
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