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Bacterial reaction centers (BRC) from Rhodobacter sphaeroides were found to accelerate, about 100-fold, the reaction between tetryl (2,4,6-trinitrophenylmethylnitramine) explosive and n-lauryl-N-N-dimethylamine-N-oxide (LDAO) that results in the formation of picric acid-like product with characteristic UV-VIS absorption spectrum with peaks at 345 and 415 nm. Moreover, this product also affects the spectra of BRC cofactors in the NIR spectral region and stabilizes the conformational changes associated with slow charge recombination. The evolution of the NIR absorption changes correlated with the kinetics of the product formation. Comparison between the wild-type and the R26 carotenoid-less strain indicates that tetryl-LDAO reaction is roughly five times faster for R26, which allows for identifying the carotenoid binding site as the optimal reaction site. Another, less-defined reaction site is located in the BRC's hydrophobic cavity. These effects are highly selective for tetryl and not observed for several other widespread nitric explosives; slowed-down charge recombination allows for distinguishing between tetryl and QB-site herbicides. The current limit of detection is in the ppb range or ~ 100 nM. Details of the molecular mechanisms of the reactions and perspectives of using these effects in bioassays or biosensors for explosives detection are also discussed.


Daniel Modafferi, Valter Zazubovich, László Kálmán. Bound detergent molecules in bacterial reaction centers facilitate detection of tetryl explosive. Photosynthesis research. 2020 Aug;145(2):145-157

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PMID: 32632533

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