CSIC is developing a universal nano device capable of detecting any virus or bacteria
Researchers of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) (Spanish National Research Council) were able to measure the resonance frequency of a single bacterium for the first time. By using optomechanical devices (which measure light and movement), the researchers observed that the bacteria vibrate hundreds of millions of times per second. The resonance frequency of the microorganism provides valuable information about its characteristics, so that it can be identified.
This finding, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, opens the door to future devices that can universally detect, on a large scale and with high sensitivity, the presence of any virus or bacteria in a sample.
Until now, detection tests, such as those used with the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, have been based on the genetic characteristics of each microorganism, so they are only able to find the viruses or bacteria for which they have been designed. But with the new technology, based on the biophysical properties of the microorganisms, the devices would be universal and would be able to locate any type of virus or bacteria by measuring the resonance frequency at which they vibrate. This process reveals information about their shape, size or rigidity, which are like the identifying marks of each microorganism.
A universal test
“The ideal test would have to be universal, capable of detecting and identifying any virus present in a sample,” the researcher says. “The alternative to genetic methods is biophysical methods. This means that if we could measure the physical properties of viral particles or bacteria present in a sample, we could identify them, because each viral species has characteristic properties. Physical properties of viruses and bacteria can be shape, mass, size, or stiffness (degree of deformability of the particles). All this information is reflected in the way one of these biological particles vibrates at its resonance frequency,” details Tamayo.
“The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has led to much talk about tests to detect viruses, such as rapid tests and PCR,” says CSIC researcher Javier Tamayo de Miguel, from the Institute of Micro and Nanotechnology, who co-led the study with Eduardo Gil.
For the last three years, Tamayo’s team has been collaborating with the Hospital La Paz and the Hospital Doce de Octubre in Madrid, and with several groups in France, Holland, Germany and Greece, experts in different technological aspects in the European project VIRUSCAN. The aim of VIRUSCAN is to build a universal virus and bacteria detector based on this technology. This is the first step in a technology that will need years of development. The first prototype should be ready by the end of next year, and although it will be an embryonic technology, it is expected that it can be applied in hospitals in the future.