Experts from the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences are developing biosensors that can be used conveniently anywhere in the field. Thanks to them, viruses and dangerous bacteria can be detected in food or perhaps on a handrail in public transport, without the facilities of a large laboratory. They used the technology successfully, for example, during the covid pandemic, when they detected the coronavirus in Prague’s public transport. Now the portable case is used by the Police Protective Service. Thanks to it, it can detect, for example, risky meat in a hamburger in no time.
We are in the Laboratory of Functional Biointerfaces. Technician Petr Horák has a medium-sized silver briefcase in front of him. In its lower part, there are four white components – flow cells in which QCN crystals are stored, i.e. the biosensors themselves.
“They oscillate at 10 MHz and actually work like micro scales. When a pathogen attaches to them, they begin to oscillate a little slower. We are able to measure this and actually weigh what we have caught and detect the pathogen based on that,” he explains on how the device works.
Experts from the Institute of Physics of the Academy of Sciences used this device more than two years ago in Prague’s public transport, when they looked for coronavirus on seats or handrails, for example. At that time, the agreement with PCR tests was 98 percent.
Bacteria on the trail
But the silver suitcase can serve other purposes as well. For example, it can find dangerous bacteria in food.
PhD student Markéta Brabcová shows me small ampoules with samples. “The surface of the biochip is modified in a special way so that there are antibodies on it that prepare specifically only the given pathogen that we are looking for in the sample,” he describes. In hamburger meat, it is specifically the E-coli bacteria that causes indigestion.
And this application is now being used by the Protection Service of the Police of the Czech Republic.
“In practice, it works so that the Protection Service comes to the place and takes samples, which are then processed in the laboratory. In the shortest time, it’s a few hours, but normally it’s more like a few days,” Hana Lísalová, head of the Laboratory of Functional Biointerfaces, explains how the checks have been carried out so far.
“Such a portable system for the field could pick out risky foods that can be put aside and then tested. This minimizes the risk of poisoning,” he emphasizes the advantages of field analysis.
Covid-19, what next?
Meanwhile, Petr Horák confirms that the measurement has already finished and the biosensors evaluated the sample as negative. “So we can consider this sample as safe from the point of view of E-coli,” summarizes Markéta Vrabcová.
“This method is unique in that it is very general. We can respond to current threats that occur. That’s why we continue to commercialize the robotic biosensor, which was originally intended for covid,” says Hana Lísalová.
“With Cardam, we developed a robotic system that we can adapt to other possible threats,” adds the scientist, who has been working on this principle of detecting viruses and bacteria for over 15 years.
He will not only talk about him at a lecture as part of the Week of the Academy of Sciences event, which starts at the Institute of Physics in Prague on Saturday at 1 p.m.