Bacterial contamination can be detected using a minimally invasive optical method, based on laser-induced optoacoustic spectroscopy, to probe for specific antigens associated with a specific infectious agent. As a model system, we have used a surface antigen (Ag), isolated from Chlamydia trachomatis , and a complementary antibody (Ab). A preparation of 0.2 mg/ml of monoclonal Ab specific to the C. trachomatis surface Ag was conjugated to gold nanorods using standard commercial reagents, in order to produce a targeted contrast agent with a strong optoacoustic signal. The C. trachomatis Ag was absorbed in standard plastic microwells, and the binding of the complementary Ab-nanorod conjugate was tested in an immunoaffinity assay. Optoacoustic signals were elicited from the bound nanorods, using an optical parametric oscillator (OPO) laser system as the optical pump. The wavelength tuneability of the OPO optimized the spectroscopic measurement by exciting the nanorods at their optical absorption maxima. Optoacoustic responses were measured in the microwells using a probe beam deflection technique. Immunoaffinity assays were performed on several dilutions of purified C. trachomatis antigen ranging from 50 μg/ml to 1 pg/ml, in order to determine the detection limit for the optoacoustic-based assay. Only when the antigen was present, and the complementary Ab-NR reagent was introduced into the microwell, was an enhanced optoacoustic signal obtained, which indicated specific binding of the Ab-NR complex. The limit of detection with the current system design is between 1 and 5 pg/ml of bacterial Ag.© (2008) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.