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Chinese create mask that detects the presence of coronavirus in the air and sends alert to the user

In a recently published study, researchers show that the N95 mask equipped with a sensor can recognize the protein used by the virus to infect cells.

The N95 mask has sensors that detect the presence of the protein present on the surface of the coronavirus (Photo: Bingfang Wang, Deqi Yang et al./Matter/Handout)

In a study published last Monday (19/9) in the scientific journal Matter, Chinese scientists present a face protection mask equipped with a virus sensor that is capable of detecting small amounts of coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in the air after a conversation. 10 minutes with someone infected.

As the American magazine New Scientist shows, after recognizing the presence of the microorganism, the mask would send a signal to the user’s smartphone. If you do not detect the presence of coronavirus, the person can choose to remove the protection, if they feel safe.

But the results so far are based only on the initial testing phase. The mask has not yet been with whole viruses, only proteins present on the surface of the coronavirus, says researcher Yin Fang, from Tongji University in China, lead author of the study, quoted by the magazine.

The team developed an N95 face mask that detects proteins present on the surface of three viruses: two strains of Influenza (H5N1 and H1N1) and SARS-CoV-2.

The sensor inside the mask’s breathing valve contains aptamers, short strands of DNA or RNA designed to bind to the specific proteins of the three viruses. These structures act similarly to antibodies in our immune system, detecting the spike protein, used by the coronavirus to infect cells.

Chinese create mask that detects the presence of coronavirus in the air and sends alert to the user
After detecting the presence of the coronavirus in the air, the mask sends an alert to the user’s cell phone (Photo: Bingfang Wang, Deqi Yang et al./Matter/Disclosure)

According to New Scientist, when aptamers bind to the spike protein, their electrical charge changes and a chip integrated into the mask sends the alert signal to the wearer’s cell phone.

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In tests, the mask was placed in a closed chamber, which was sprayed with droplets of liquid (similar to those produced when a person coughs or talks) containing the protein of either SARS-CoV-2 or the two flu viruses. After 10 minutes, the system was able to detect the presence of only 0.1 phentogram (0.0000000000000001 gram) of protein per milliliter of fluid.

The mask can be useful for people who need to work in closed spaces with poor ventilation, explains Yin Fang to the American magazine. The system can also be upgraded with aptamers modified to recognize other pathogens.

Importantly, Chinese scientists have not yet tested how often the mask gives a false warning signal when it encounters the proteins of other viruses.

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