Rice scientists are developing a real-time sensor system to detect minute amounts of airborne viruses that causes COVID-19 infection.
Funded by DARPA, the Rice project involves engineers Rafael Verduzco, Pedro Alvarez and structural virologist Yizhi Jane Tao.
They are collaborating with William Lawrence – a microbiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) at Galveston, to develop a thin film electronic device that senses as few as eight SARS-CoV-2 viruses in 10 minutes of sampling air flowing at 8 liters per minute.
“We had started working last summer on the idea of trying to detect SARS-Cov-2,” says Verduzco.
Alvarez and Tao previously introduced a filter that could “trap and zap” SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater at treatment plants.
Molecular imprinting cavities where specific molecules or particles fit snugly can enhance the capacity of surfaces to selectively adsorb and concentrate viruses.
This in turn facilitates their disinfection, in the trap-and-zap project – or detection in this RAPID project.
Jane suggests that anchoring specific biorecognition factors could further enhance the selectivity of the surface to attach and concentrate SARS-CoV-2.
The scientists have proposed a bioaerosol sampler that can concentrate airborne SARS-CoV-2 into a liquid electrolyte medium.
This can then be binded onto virus-imprinted polymers functionalized with SARS-CoV-2 attachment factors that enhance selectivity and use organic electrochemical transistors to rapidly transduce SARS-CoV-2 binding events into electronic signals.
They say that the proposed device would be sized for analysis of a 50-cubic-meter office, a 300-cubic-meter classroom or central building monitoring.
It is further expected that the filtration system will not only be able to rapidly adapt for other pathogens, but also nondestructively capture viruses in a way that retains them for further analysis.
Image and content: CDC-Pexels/Rice University