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Scientists and researchers create face mask that can detect COVID-19

The technology is adapted from previous attempts to detect the Zika and Ebola viruses

Photo (c) janiecbros - Getty Images
Researchers and scientists have reintroduced technology that could possibly reduce the transmission of COVID-19. A report from Nature Biotechnology says scientists at Harvard and MIT have invented a mask that detects the coronavirus. 

Woven into the mask is a literal network of sensors and synthetic circuits that, within 90 minutes, can detect when the virus accumulates on the inside of the mask as a result of coughing, talking, or normal respiration. 

The technology has actually been around for a while and was previously used to create experimental diagnostic tools for the Ebola and Zika viruses. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the researchers regrouped and worked for more than a year to turn the experimental technology into a product that could help prevent its spread.

Improvements cover all bases

According to a report in New Atlas, the game-changing technology goes a few steps further than it did in its Ebola and Zika incarnation. 

For one thing, ease-of-use has been made a focal point, leading the scientists to develop a one-button click to activate the device’s circuitry. When the button is pressed, a small amount of water is released that hydrates freeze-dried molecules in the sensor. Those molecules then analyze the wearer’s breath and produce a readout that’s similar to a pregnancy test.

Fearing that the mask could potentially malfunction for some reason and cause the virus organisms to migrate to the human body, researchers also programmed the sensors to use a system that “extracts and freeze dries the cellular machinery needed to detect organic molecules.”

The researchers say the sensor technology goes beyond the mask level and is tiny enough to be integrated into clothing fabrics.

“We have essentially shrunk an entire diagnostic laboratory down into a small, synthetic biology-based sensor that works with any face mask, and combines the high accuracy of PCR [polymerase chain reaction] tests with the speed and low cost of antigen tests,” said study co-author Peter Nguyen.

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