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30th May 2024 (13 Topics)

New Light-Based Tool Detects Viral Infections

Context

Researchers have developed a new tool that can detect viral infections in cells using only light and basic physics. This tool identifies if cells are infected by observing how light is distorted when it passes through them.

How does it work?

  • When a cell is infected by a virus, it undergoes changes in shape, size, and features. The researchers infected pig testicle cells with pseudorabies virus, shone light through them, and recorded how the light was distorted.
  • They compared these patterns to those from healthy cells, finding distinct ‘fingerprints’ of infection.
  • The tool uses diffraction patterns, which occur when light waves spread out after passing through narrow openings or around small objects.
  • The researchers analyzed the contrast between light and dark stripes in these patterns, and a mathematical value called the inverse differential moment, to differentiate between uninfected, infected, and dead cells.

Significance

  • The method detects viral infections in about two hours and costs about a tenth of the standard method. This makes it more accessible and reduces dependency on chemical reagents and supply chains.
  • During outbreaks like bird flu, which killed over 131 million poultry in 2022 and 2023, quick detection is crucial.
  • Current methods (PCR and antigen tests) are specific to certain viruses, but the new method can detect viral infections in general, allowing for timely preventive measures.

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