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UQ team shows how yeast can be used as a sensor for virus detection

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Researchers from The University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) have made powdery “nanoprobes” from baker’s yeast, which could one day be used to cheaply and rapidly detect viruses in an environment.

The dust created is made up of synthetic fragments of the yeast cell walls. According to AIBN Professor Matt Trau, these nanoprobes can be integrated into current Covid-19 testing platforms, as well as act as stand-alone sensors. 

This is aided by the remarkable stability of the yeast cell walls, enabling them to survive even in harsh, high temperature, dry and acidic or caustic conditions.

“Yeast has long been a cheap, safe and abundant ingredient in bread and beer, and thanks to its unique chemical properties, it can now be used as a universal diagnostic technology that rivals PCR testing for speed and sensitivity, whilst being cheap and easy to manufacture and stable in environments no other traditional diagnostic could withstand – such as the surface of high flow airfilters,” said Trau in a statement on Monday. 

“In this case, we are using the same historically inexpensive and highly scalable food production systems to create a sensor powder that can be deployed in the environment to detect a range of viral threats.” 

AIBN research fellow Dr Selvakumar Edwardraja added that the yeast sensor technology can also be genetically programmed to detect any specific or future viral strain, and give health systems a head start on new and emerging viral threats migrating from animals to people. 

“We must now be able to quickly identify which variant a patient has, where it has come from, and what needs to be done to treat it,” said Edwardraja of Covid. 

“We would also like to know [is] from which animal it came.” 

A paper on the team’s work can be accessed in full in Nature Nanotechnology at this link.

Picture: supplied

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