Test reveals dangerous new coronavirus variants

Woman taking a coronavirus test. | Newsreel
A new test can determine which coronavirus variant will be the most harmful. | Photo: Azmanl (IStock)

A tool has been developed to determine which new coronavirus variants will be the most harmful.

Developed by researchers at Cornell University, the bioelectric device can detect and classify new variants of coronavirus, and potentially other viruses, such as measles and influenza.

Cornell Engineering Professor Susan Daniel said the sensing tool used a cell membrane on a microchip that recreated the environment for infection.

Professor Daniel said this enabled researchers to quickly characterize variants of concern, without getting bogged down by the complexity of living systems.

“In the news, we see these variants of concern emerge periodically, like delta, omicron and so on, and it kind of freaks everyone out,” she said.

“It takes a little while to determine if a variant is a true cause for concern or if it will just fizzle out.”

Professor Daniel said while many biological elements had been put on microchips, the new platform differed from those devices because it recapitulated the biological cues and processes that led to the initiation of an infection at the cellular membrane of a single cell.

“In effect, it fools a variant into behaving as if it is in an actual cellular system of its potential host.”

She said because the researchers were able to recreate the biological conditions and cues that activated a virus, they could also change those cues and see how the virus responded.

“In terms of understanding the basic science of how infection occurs and what cues can assist or hinder it, this is a unique tool.”

Professor Daniel said the platform could be tailored for other viruses, such as influenza and measles, so long as the researchers knew what cell type had the propensity to be infected, as well as what biological idiosyncrasies allowed a specific infection to flourish.

Read the paper.