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Making Viruses Vibrate To Signal Their Whereabouts

A team of Cambridge scientists have invented a new method that could revolutionize the way scientists detect viruses. It works by "vibrating" viruses and listening to the sound they make as they break away from a surface.

The secret lies in tiny quartz crystals less than 1 cm in diameter and 1 mm thick. An antibody is used to bind the virus to the surface of the quartz and the crystal is then made to vibrate electrically.

As the virus breaks off the crystal, it makes a distinctive noise - like the sound made when a twig snaps. The crystal is then used as a sensitive microphone to convert the sound back into an electrical signal that detects the virus.

The method, which is described in the September issue of Nature Biotechnology, was developed in the UK's University of Cambridge Department of Chemistry by a team including Victor Ostanin, David Klenerman, Matthew Cooper, Tony Minson, Alexander Slepstov, Fedor Dultsev, Lianne Cabuche and Chris Abell.

"The method is inexpensive, versatile and the results are obtained much more quickly than conventional techniques. We get good results in the lab, but we have a lot of work to do before we can deal with real samples in hospitals and on farms, for instance," explained Dr. Matthew Cooper.

"In our tests, we used a herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores, and which is a useful model for more life-threatening viruses such as HIV and Hepatitis B. The whole process is completed in under two hours, and we hope will eventually be able to eliminate anxious waiting periods for patients being diagnosed," Dr. Cooper said.

A company, called Akubio, has been formed to commercialize the technology, using funds raised from the University of Cambridge Challenge Fund, the University of Cambridge, and the life sciences venture capital company, Abingworth Management.

The aim is to make the instrument smaller and to extend the range of samples that can be detected to include bacteria, proteins and DNA.

(Reference: "Direct and sensitive detection of a human virus by rupture event scanning" by Matthew A. Cooper, Fedor N. Dultsev, Tony Minson, Victor P. Ostanin, Chris Abell, and David Klenerman, will be published in the September issue of Nature Biotechnology.)






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