Precisely probing heavy metal ions in water is important for molecular biology, environmental protection, and healthy monitoring. Although many methods have been reported in the past decade, developing a quantitative approach capable of detecting sub-ppt level heavy metal ions with high selectivity is still challenging. Here we report an extremely sensitive and highly selective nanoporous gold/aptamer based surface enhanced resonance Raman scattering (SERRS) sensor. The optical sensor has an unprecedented detection sensitivity of 1 pM (0.2 ppt) for Hg2+ ions, the most sensitive Hg2+ optical sensor known so far. The sensor also exhibits excellent selectivity. Dilute Hg2+ ions can be identified in an aqueous solution containing 12 metal ions as well as in river water and underground water. Moreover, the SERRS sensor can be reused without an obvious loss of the sensitivity and selectivity even after 10 cycles.
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