Scientists Discover Glowing Shrimp Molecule That Instantly Detects COVID
Scientists Discover Glowing Shrimp Molecule That Instantly Detects COVID

Scientists Discover Glowing Shrimp Molecule That Instantly Detects COVID

Abstract Science nanotechnology particles

Scientists in Japan have come up with a clever new way to rapidly detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. They've harnessed a bioluminescent molecule found naturally in certain tiny shrimp-like creatures called Cypridina. Here's how it works:

This glowing molecule reacts specifically with the spike protein that studs the surface of the coronavirus particles. When the Cypridina luciferin molecule encounters the spike protein, for example in a saliva sample, it kicks off a chemiluminescent reaction that results in the emission of light. The brighter the glow, the more virus present.

Pretty nifty, right? The researchers showed their bioluminescence test can detect the viral spike protein in saliva within just 1 minute, no sample prep required. They envision it being an easy "mix-and-read" format using a handheld luminometer device.

What makes this approach so slick is that the Cypridina luciferin seems to interact with a hydrophobic pocket in the 3D structure of the viral spike in just the right way to catalyze the light-emitting reaction. Remarkably, it doesn't get tripped up by other abundant proteins in saliva samples.

The researchers found their test responds to the spike proteins from earlier SARS viruses too, but not the MERS virus. For Omicron, the signal was a bit weaker, so they may need to tweak the glowing molecule to improve detection of that variant.

While not as ultra-sensitive as PCR testing, this bioluminescent approach could provide a rapid, inexpensive pre-screening option, particularly in settings like nursing homes or schools where frequent, easier testing would be valuable. The team is exploring commercialization possibilities.

Of course, more work lies ahead to validate and optimize the technology for real-world applications. But harnessing nature's biological light sources in creative ways like this is pretty darn cool if you ask me! Modern science still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

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Pseudo-Luciferase Activity of the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein for Cypridina Luciferin

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