LivingDetect the coronavirus in the air? If possible

Detect the coronavirus in the air? If possible

Since the appearance of SARS-CoV-2 last year, efforts to discover new methods of identification and prevalence of the virus have not stopped; research funding has started to be a priority for governments.

In this context, a team of scientists from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), supported by the Generalitat Valenciana, has opted to adapt a device of their invention, originally created to detect autoimmune diseases, to the new situation. The objective of the researchers was to assess air quality and early identify the presence of the coronavirus indoors. To do this, the experts have used a highly sensitive mass -related biosensor that monitors atmospheric aerosols.

The methodology used by these biosensors is based on a principle called nanobalance. The device has a biological element – an antibody – which, immobilized on the surface of an electrode, is capable of recognizing one of the proteins expressed by the virus; specifically, the S1 subunit of its spicule, an external protrusion with which the pathogen enters human cells. When it detects it, a mass difference is produced that determines the presence of the virus. This has been explained by Sergi Morais, researcher at the Interuniversity Research Institute for Molecular Recognition and Technological Development (IDM), belonging to the UPV. Morais emphasizes that this type of analytical tools could help to control the disease: “There are many more viruses in the environment than we think,” he pointed out.

As it is a highly infective pathogen, the researchers have developed simulations of the device with VLPs ( virus like particles ). “They are viral particles created in the laboratory with the same size and number of virus particles, but without the RNA [its genetic material],” Morais explained.

Experts calibrate the biosensor with known viral load concentrations. In this way, when the device identifies said load, it can relate it to reference curves stored in the software . “If it passes all the quality controls that we are evaluating, the system could detect the virus in a room without the need for PCR”, the expert stressed. The device would be placed in a representative place of the cabin to be analyzed. When the viral load was high, the sensor would emit an alarm signal, visual or audible.

Currently, the project is in the prototype phase and is being evaluated at the General Hospital of Castellón, in rooms with a size of approximately forty cubic meters. If the preliminary results of the research team continue to be successful, the device could be marketed to analyze closed spaces such as homes, classrooms, restaurants, cinemas and means of transport.

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