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Highly Selective Aptamer-Molecularly Imprinted Polymer Hybrids for Recognition of SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Variants

Virus recognition has been driven to the forefront of molecular recognition research due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Development of highly sensitive recognition elements, both natural and synthetic is critical to facing such a global issue. However, as viruses mutate, it is possible for their recognition to wane through changes in the target substrate, which can lead to detection avoidance and increased false negatives. Likewise, the ability to detect specific variants is of great interest for clinical analysis of all viruses. Here, a hybrid aptamer-molecularly imprinted polymer (aptaMIP), that maintains selective recognition for the spike protein template across various mutations, while improving performance over individual aptamer or MIP components (which themselves demonstrate excellent performance). The aptaMIP exhibits an equilibrium dissociation constant of 1.61 nM toward its template which matches or exceeds published examples of imprinting of the spike protein. The work here demonstrates that “fixing” the aptamer within a polymeric scaffold increases its capability to selectivity recognize its original target and points toward a methodology that will allow variant selective molecular recognition with exceptional affinity.

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