Australia institute unveils instant coronavirus sensor to prevent outbreaks

The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. January 29, 2020. Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAM/CDC/Handout via REUTERS

The Australia Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and its partners have unveiled an instant COVID-19 sensor that can detect the presence of tiny amounts of the COVID-19 virus.

The ‘Soterius Scout’ sensor unveiled by the university on Friday, can detect the presence of tiny amounts of the COVID-19 virus and its variants within a minute to provide the all-clear for someone to enter the work environment.

Researchers had successfully created the prototype, and they said the technology would be manufactured in Australia with future applications in essential workplaces and high-traffic settings including hospitals, aged care, quarantine hotels, airports and schools.

This sensor used flexible microelectronics and a synthetic nanotechnology that bind to targeted viruses, enabling specific detection and preventing false positives.

Key components of the technology were microfabrication of the biosensor and advanced manufacturing of the electronics.

Soterius co-founder Dr Alasdair Wood said emerging environmental viral sensors were bulky, energy intensive and only can detect one type of virus, but Soterius Scout sensor can be worn as a personal tag and it can detect up to 8 viral strains.

“Our biosensor is so small, it can fit on a personal fob card and it’s easy to use, you just need to swipe your card over a reader at checkpoints and our technology can be easily adapted to detect new variants or novel viruses as they emerge,’’ Wood said.

Prototype tests conducted at RMIT, in partnership with Burnet Institute based in the state of Victoria, revealed that the Soterius Scout biosensor detects COVID-19 virus spike protein fragments with impressive accuracy and no false positives.

According to the university’s statement, researchers also believed the technology can detect COVID-19 even if someone is asymptomatic.

“As the recent lockdowns across Australia show, COVID-19 is not going away any time soon and we need smart solutions to help us detect the virus and contain outbreaks,’’ RMIT project leader Prof. Sharath Sriram said.

“It is exciting to see our platform sensor technology at the core of this smart new solution for the management of COVID-19.

“Other respiratory viruses in workplaces are to help protect our frontline workers and the wider community.’’

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