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Scientists Print Ebola Test onto Biological Litmus Paper

ebola paper

Image credit: Harvard’s Wyss Institute

Scientists at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have developed the new technology using the tiny piece of filter paper as a handy diagnostics laboratory, which is condensed into a strip in the size of pocket. Such technology serves an inexpensive and easy means for detection of a wide range of infections or medically vital molecules such as glucose.

Although it is not in practical application yet at the moment, the scientists have identified that the two different strains of Ebola virus could be successfully picked up by the test.

The operational principle of the technology is to embed synthetic gene circuits onto pieces of litmus paper and then freeze dry them in the way that they could be can be kept for a quite longer time under the room temperature. In order to allow the circuit to be alive, it is simple to dip it into water. Once a particular pathogen or molecule is found in the water, the tiny dots on the paper would be seen to change color.

The design of the networks works like this—as soon as a certain target, for example, a piece of viral or bacterial genetic material is bond to one of the genes; the circuit would be switched on. In the next step, it could cause genes to be downstream in the circuit so as to begin with production of colorful proteins, just like the fluorescent molecule which allow jellyfish to glow. Therefore, scientists are capable of detecting a wide range of target molecules in the way to mix up the combination of genes in the circuit,

To test this mini laboratory, the researchers expose it to two different strains of Ebola virus and they were certain that it could be successful in detecting the virus. With its amazing efficiency, it could observe a color change in only 30 minutes, the period of time it takes for antibody tests to show a result in a tradition way. In addition, scientists designed another test that succeeded in picking up genetic material from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which would be quite conducive to hospitals.

It is so impressive that the tests cost only $21 to produce, which is very cheap compared with expensive diagnostic machines. If the researchers themselves are able to generate the gene sequences, instead of paying other companies to synthesize them, the cost could be much lower.

Thanks to its small size, the test could be transported in an easy way to remote areas where clinical facilities are not much accessible to local residents. Such tests would make much improvement in regard to diagnosis rates. In particular, it would be quite useful for disease outbreaks, like the present Ebola crisis in developing countries.

Furthermore, being versatile, the test could be applied to various bodily fluids, such as saliva or blood. It has to be admitted that there is still a lot of room for further improvement in the technology before it could actually put into practice, because for the time being, its sensitivity is quite enough to identify tiny amounts of target molecules. At the same time, the researchers should make certain that they should cut down the number of false positive results shown by the test so as to keep up with peculiar diagnostic standards.

Source: CellHarvard Wyss InstituteNew Scientist and PopSci