This study describes the development and evaluation of an amplification-free molecular assay for detection of Cryptosporidium parvum oocysts. The assay employed a pair of oligonucleotide-functionalized gold nanoparticle (AuNP) probes that were complementary to adjacent sequences on C. parvum 18s rRNA. Hybridization of the probes to the target RNA resulted in the assembly of AuNPs into target-linked networks, which were detected both visibly and spectroscopically, by a redshift in the wavelength of light scattered by the gold nanoparticles. The limit of detection was between 4 × 105 and 4 × 106 copies of RNA per microliter reaction mix, when a short synthetic target or full-length in vitro transcribed target was employed. With total nucleic acids purified from C. parvum oocysts spiked into 100-mg stool, as few as 670 oocysts/μl reaction mix were detected. The ability to detect the nucleic acids of C. parvum oocysts in stool, without the need for complex amplification, offers unique advantages for such AuNP aggregation assays to be extended toward use in resource-limited settings where protozoan detection is needed most.

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