- Researchers develop an effective and inexpensive device that identifies a broad range of viruses within minutes.
- The device is called VIRRION.
- It utilizes Raman spectroscopy to identify viruses based on their individual vibration.
Viruses are microscopic parasites that replicate only inside the living cells of an organism. They can infect all types of life forms, from plants and animals to microorganisms, including archaea and bacteria.
It is estimated that more than 1.5 million unknown viruses are in animals, which can be transmitted to humans. Known viruses like Ebola, Zika, and H5N1 have caused widespread illness and death. However, early detection provides a ‘window of opportunity’ to halt the spread of deadly viruses by enabling the quick and effective deployment of countermeasures.
Therefore, researchers at Penn State University have developed an inexpensive handheld device that captures viruses based on their size. It is named VIRRION (short for virus capture with rapid Raman spectroscopy detection and identification).
How Does It Work?
Existing methodologies (to detect viruses) require expensive and large instruments. This new device, on the other hand, is just a few centimeters across. It consists of arrays of nanotubes that are comparable in size to various viruses.
The research team utilized Raman spectroscopy to identify viruses based on their individual vibration. To identify molecules of the virus even in very low concentration, researchers enhanced the Raman signal by adding gold nanoparticles in the device.
They then used machine learning methods (a subfield of artificial intelligence) to build a library of a broad range of viruses.
An array of nanotubes arranged with gold nanoparticles to capture molecules of a virus | Penn State
The tests show that VIRRION enables the simultaneous enrichment of multiple emerging virus strains in only a few minutes. The device captures viruses by their size (using a gradient of aligned carbon nanotube arrays) and detects them on-site (using Raman spectroscopy) with 90% accuracy in realtime.
A flow chart of VIRRION for avian influenza virus surveillance and discovery | Courtesy of researchers
Moreover, this feasible enrichment process enables further culturing and characterization via electron microscopy and deep sequencing. In summary, it is a fast and effective disease monitoring system that improves virus surveillance significantly.
Uses And Applications
VIRRION would be extremely useful in virus emergence, virus discovery, and diagnosis. And since it is small and inexpensive, it will help doctors rapidly track and monitor viral outbreaks in realtime.
This device has a broad range of possible uses. For instance, early detection of a virus in livestock can save a herd from severe diseases. In agriculture, early detection could save an entire crop. And of course, the detection of viruses in minutes (rather than in days) could save more human lives.