GENEVA, April 21 (Xinhua) -- A team of researchers in Switzerland has succeeded in developing a biosensor for not only detecting the novel coronavirus but also monitoring the virus in the environment.
The Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) on Tuesday announced on its website that the new method, developed by a joint team from Empa, ETH Zurich and Zurich University Hospital, could be used to measure the virus concentration in busy places in real time.
"Once the sensor is ready, the principle could be applied to other viruses and help to detect and stop epidemics at an early stage," the website said.
To demonstrate how reliably the new sensor detects the current coronavirus, the researchers tested it with a very closely related virus: SARS-CoV, which triggered the SARS outbreak in China in 2003.
"Tests showed that the sensor can clearly distinguish between the very similar RNA sequences of the two viruses, and the results are ready in a matter of minutes," said Dr. Jing Wang of the research team.
Wang and his team at Empa and ETH Zurich usually work on measuring, analyzing and reducing airborne pollutants such as aerosols and artificially produced nanoparticles.
Wang told Xinhua that even before the COVID-19 began to spread, he and his colleagues were researching sensors that could detect bacteria and viruses in the air.
As early as January of this year, the idea of developing a sensor that could reliably identify a specific virus was born, and the outbreak of the pandemic just facilitate their efforts in this direction.
According to Wang, the sensor will not necessarily replace the established laboratory tests, but could be used as an alternative method for clinical diagnosis, and more prominently to measure the coronavirus concentration in the air, for example in Zurich's main railway station.
"Hopefully this will help to bring the pandemic under control as soon as possible," he said.
However, at the moment the sensor is not yet ready for large-scale use, as a number of developmental steps are still needed to to be done.
"This still needs more development work; I hope it will be ready in one year," Wang told Xinhua, adding that if more resources are being invested, the waiting time should be even shorter. Enditem