A student team in Australia, including one of Indian-origin, have developed a new super-sensitive biosensor that can quickly detect deadly Ebola virus and other diseases.
The DNA-based nanomachine is so small that it could one day be used to diagnose disease simply by putting a blood sample into a smartphone or a portable machine.
If the virus being searched for is present, the nanosensors will light up.
The students, including three from the University of New South Wales (UNSW), have become the first Australian team to win the prestigious Harvard Biomod Competition after building a DNA sensor that will be able to rapidly detect small amounts DNA from the Ebola virus, and other disease-causing agents.
The nanomachine they developed works like a light switch, turning on and glowing like a beacon when it comes into contact with a specific strand of DNA from a bacterium or virus.
“Our concept is inspired by the way biology works and could provide a quicker and cheaper method of alerting scientists and doctors to the presence of disease,” said Dr Lawrence Lee of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, who led the team of six students.
“Further down the track we would like to have a sensor that is so sophisticated you can test for bacteria or viruses by plugging a blood sample into your mobile phone,” said Lee.
The DNA that is detected by the biosensor could come from a range of sources, including a mutation associated with cancer or a gene that causes antibiotic resistance, as well as from bacteria and viruses.
The student team included Anirudh Balachandar of the University of Technology, Sydney, and Nicholas Burg and Cyril Tang, of the University of Sydney.