New paper Ebola test can detect strains within 30 minutes

"It’s a pragmatic, very big-deal improvement," Julius Lucks said.
By Brooks Hays   |   Oct. 27, 2014 at 10:53 AM

BOSTON, Oct. 27 (UPI) -- A team of synthetic biologists have developed a prototype paper test that they say can detect the presence of Ebola strains within 30 minutes, a development that could make the process of finding and containing the disease faster and more efficient.

The litmus-like test utilizes a technology that's popular in science labs called "cell free system," whereby cellular processes are replicated and observed in a test tube. To create the new Ebola test, researchers installed the cell free system on a strip of porous paper.

The amalgamation of biological ingredients is freeze dried on the paper and reacts when presented with a strain of Ebola. Researchers say the technology could be adapted for all kinds of disease detection. A new sort of genetic soup can be programmed to react and respond to a range of biochemical inputs.

"In a period of just 12 hours, two of my team managed to develop 24 sensors that would detect different regions of the Ebola genome, and discriminate between the Sudan and the Zaire strains," Jim Collins, a synthetic biologist at Boston University who lead the team of researchers, told BBC News.

"It's a pragmatic, very big-deal improvement," Julius Lucks, a chemical engineer at Cornell University, told the MIT Technology Review. "Now we can ask 'What do we want to do [with it]?'"

Collins and his colleagues admit that the test still requires some level of lab expertise, so they don't think the technology is quite ready for the epidemic centers of West Africa; but they say they're not far from developing one that is.

Their research was detailed last week in the latest issue of the scientific journal Cell.

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