CSIC scientists look for a nanodevice capable of “seeing” any virus

CSIC scientists look for a nanodevice capable of “seeing” any virus

Scientists have discovered that bacteria and viruses vibrate and that the characteristics and type of any microorganism could be detected and identified from their resonance frequency. Researchers at the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) (1) are looking for a “nanodevice” capable of detecting any virus or bacteria.

Scientists have discovered that bacteria vibrate and that the characteristics and type of any microorganism could be detected and identified from their resonance frequency, the CSIC reported today.

The current microorganism detection tests are based on genetic data, so they are only effective for each virus or each specific bacteria for which they have been designed.

Using optomechanical devices (which measure light and movement), researchers have observed that bacteria vibrate hundreds of millions of times per second.

The resonance frequency of the microorganism provides valuable information on its characteristics, which allows it to be identified.

This finding, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, opens the door for future devices that can detect, universally, 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- are 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.

With the new technology, based on the biophysical properties of microorganisms, the devices would be universal and could locate any type of virus or bacterium by measuring the resonance frequency at which they vibrate, which reveals information about their shape, size or stiffness, which are the hallmarks of each microorganism.

“The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has caused much talk about tests to detect viruses, such as rapid tests and PCR,” said CSIC researcher Javier Tamayo de Miguel, from the Institute of Micro and Nanotechnology, who has co-led the study with Eduardo Gil.

According to Tamayo, “all these tests have in common that they are directed at specific species; each test is capable of detecting only the virus or viruses for which it is designed.”

The ideal test “should be universal, capable of detecting and identifying any virus present in a sample,” said the researcher, and stressed that the alternative to genetic methods are biophysical methods.

“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,” said the researcher.

CSIC researchers have measured for the first time the resonance frequency of a single bacterium, a discovery is “a double milestone”: discovering that bacteria vibrate at characteristic frequencies and knowing at what frequency they do it and doing it at the level of a single particle, Tamayo has detailed.

To do so, Spanish researchers have used optomechanical nanodepositives that have received much scientific interest for their ability to measure displacements less than the size of an atom.

For three years, Tamayo’s team has collaborated with Hospital La Paz and Hospital Doce de Octubre, Madrid, and with various groups in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Greece, within the framework of the European project VIRUSCAN.

This project aims to build a universal virus and bacteria detector based on this technology, which will be the first step in a technology that will still need several 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.

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