Researchers invent mask that detects COVID-19

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Despite very different local ordinances and workplace regulations, many experts agree that masks, at least in a way, are here to stay. And while they work to our advantage to prevent the spread of disease, scientists at MIT and Harvard have developed a new face mask that offers yet another essential feature.

According to a recent article published in the scientific journal Natural biotechnology, a new study suggests that face masks can be used to actually detect cases of COVID-19 in the wearer.

The technology uses tiny biosensors that can be integrated into woven textiles. These sensors are programmable and can discover toxins or illnesses, including COVID-19, that can be discovered in a wearer’s breath within 90 minutes.

This research is game-changing because it modifies existing technology in biosensors. According to a report in New Atlas, older iterations of this type of design used living cells to detect organic molecules in toxins, but researchers feared that a failure of the device would cause organisms to leak into the human body. In this case, the sensors use a system that “extracts and lyophilizes the cellular machinery necessary to detect organic molecules”.

This technology, which was already being studied in connection with diseases like the Zika virus, was applied in earnest from the start of the pandemic. The result, just over a year later, is a built-in device that can activate when a button is pressed. Water is released into the lyophilized molecules, allowing them to then analyze the wearer’s breath droplets. When ready, it produces a result that the report describes as “a reading similar to a pregnancy test.”

According to study co-author Peter Nguyen, “We have essentially reduced an entire diagnostic lab to a small, synthetic biology-based sensor that works with any face mask and combines the high precision of PCR testing with the speed and low cost of antigen testing.

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