From U Texas at Austin: “Making Virus Sensors Cheap and Simple: New Method Detects Single Viruses”

U Texas Austin bloc

University of Texas at Austin

23 May 2016
Marc G Airhart

Scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a new method to rapidly detect a single virus in urine, as reported* this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin demonstrated the ability to detect single viruses in a solution containing murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV). The single virus in this image is a human cytomegalovirus, a cousin of MCMV. It was obtained by chilling a sample down with liquid nitrogen and exposing it to high-energy electrons. Image courtesy of Jean-Yves Sgro, U. of Wisconsin-Madison (EMD-5696 data Dai, XH et al., 2013)

Although the technique presently works on just one virus, scientists say it could be adapted to detect a range of viruses that plague humans including Ebola, Zika and HIV.

“The ultimate goal is to build a cheap, easy-to-use device to take into the field and measure the presence of a virus like Ebola in people on the spot,” says Jeffrey Dick, a chemistry graduate student and co-lead author of the study. “While we are still pretty far from this, this work is a leap in the right direction.”

The other co-lead author is Adam Hilterbrand, a microbiology graduate student.

The new method is highly selective, meaning it is only sensitive to one type of virus, filtering out possible false negatives caused by other viruses or contaminants.

There are two other commonly used methods for detecting viruses in biological samples, but they have drawbacks. One requires a much higher concentration of viruses, and the other requires samples to be purified to remove contaminants. The new method, however, can be used with urine straight from a person or animal.

The other co-authors are Lauren Strawsine, a postdoctoral fellow in chemistry; Jason Upton, an assistant professor of molecular biosciences; and Allen Bard, professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Electrochemistry.

The researchers demonstrated their new technique on a virus that belongs to the same family as the herpes virus, called murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV). To detect individual viruses, the team places an electrode — a wire that conducts electricity, in this case, one that is thinner than a human cell — in a sample of mouse urine. They then add to the urine some special molecules made up of enzymes and antibodies that naturally stick to the virus of interest. When all three stick together and then bump into the electrode, there’s a spike in electric current that can be easily detected.

The researchers say their new method still needs refinement. For example, the electrodes become less sensitive over time because a host of other naturally occurring compounds stick to them, leaving less surface area for viruses to interact with them. To be practical, the process will also need to be engineered into a compact and rugged device that can operate in a range of real-world environments.

Support for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Welch Foundation and the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas.

*Science paper:
Enzymatically enhanced collisions on ultramicroelectrodes for specific and rapid detection of individual viruses

See the full article here .

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In 1839, the Congress of the Republic of Texas ordered that a site be set aside to meet the state’s higher education needs. After a series of delays over the next several decades, the state legislature reinvigorated the project in 1876, calling for the establishment of a “university of the first class.” Austin was selected as the site for the new university in 1881, and construction began on the original Main Building in November 1882. Less than one year later, on Sept. 15, 1883, The University of Texas at Austin opened with one building, eight professors, one proctor, and 221 students — and a mission to change the world. Today, UT Austin is a world-renowned higher education, research, and public service institution serving more than 51,000 students annually through 18 top-ranked colleges and schools.