October 16, 2021

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Researchers from Harvard University and MIT develop Face Mask that takes 90 Minutes to Detect the Presence of SARS-CoV-2

Researchers from Harvard University and MIT develop Face Mask that takes 90 Minutes to Detect the Presence of SARS-CoV-2

In a groundbreaking research study, scientists and researchers have developed an innovative wearable biosensor incorporating cutting-edge biotechnology in the clothing. The team of researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology have embedded synthetic biology reactions into fabrics to detect pathogens and toxins and send alerts to the wearer.

Wearable generally refers to fitness tracker, smartwatch, or wireless earbuds. But this new research aims to incorporate advanced technology into clothing that can warn the wearer when any toxins or dangerous materials are detected. The team of researchers carrying out this study have created wearable biosensors by integrating synthetic biology reactions into fabrics, such a standard face masks, which can be customized to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the breath of the patient. The mask is equipped with a button, which on activation can give results within 90 minutes with an accuracy level comparable to that of the laboratory-based nucleic acid diagnostic tests such as RT-PCR. According to Peter Nguyen, Ph.D., who is the co-first author of the research study, the team have miniaturized an entire molecular diagnostic laboratory into a small biological sensor that can work with any face mask and combines the accuracy of a PCR test with the speed, agility, and cost-efficiency of antigen tests. The technology works by first opening the SARS-CoV-2 membrane to expose its RNA and second step involves amplification of this RNA to generate multiple double-stranded copies of the spike protein gene from the viral genome. The final reaction leverages CRISPR-based SHERLOCK technology to detect fragments of Spike gene which further reports the presence through a lateral flow assay strip. This is the first-of-its-kind SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid test that offers accurate results at room temperature which eliminates the need for specific laboratory controlled conditions.

Moreover, the programmable biosensors developed by these research teams can also be efficiently integrated into other clothing to provide on-the-go detection of toxic foreign substances such as viruses, bacteria, or chemical agents. The SARS-CoV-2 biosensor developed by the teams is a conclusion of three years of work they have put into their wearable freeze-dried cell-free (wFDCF) technology that involves extracting and freeze-drying molecular machinery of the cells that read DNA and facilitates transcription and translation.