New face mask detects SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens in breathing - a healing practice

Biosensors in masks can help diagnose COVID-19

Many people feel unsafe during the COVID-19 pandemic after coming into contact with other people. Have you become infected or have you infected others? There is usually no quick answer to such questions. A US research team has now found a way to integrate biosensors into face masks and other textiles in order to receive rapid feedback on the presence of pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Bioinspired Engineering at Harvard University and MIT have found a way to embed wearable biosensors into textiles that enable rapid and accurate detection of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens or toxins.nature biotechnology” Foot.

The mask checks breathing

The biosensors can be individually tuned to alert the wearer as soon as certain viruses, pathogens or toxins are detected. With the new technology, the working group initially wants to produce a face mask that checks for SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses in the breath.

Similar accuracy to the PCR test

The biosensors are activated at the push of a button and analyze the wearer’s breath. Integrated biosensors can determine if there is a SARS-CoV-2 infection within 90 minutes. According to the working group, the accuracy can be compared with the results of the PCR test.

Diagnostic lab in face mask

Peter Nguyen from the research team summarizes: “We have essentially reduced an entire diagnostic lab to a small synthetic biology-based sensor that works with any face mask and combines the high accuracy of PCR tests with the speed and low cost of antigen tests.” together.

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Not only suitable for face masks

“In addition to face masks, programmable biosensors can be integrated into other clothing in order to detect hazardous materials such as viruses, bacteria, toxins and chemicals in the environment on the go,” Nguyen adds.

Biosensors from lyophilized cells

Researchers are particularly proud of the SARS-CoV-2 biosensor, which appeared after three years of research. It is based on a technology in which cells read DNA and produce specific RNA and proteins in the process. These cells are freeze-dried and activated when they come into contact with water.

These biological elements can be stored for long periods of time and can be fitted with artificial circuits that convert cell interactions into a perceptible signal when activated.

It was first used on the Zika virus

The core technology was first used in 2015 during the Zika virus outbreak. There, similar biosensors were combined on a piece of paper to create an inexpensive, portable diagnostic tool for detecting the virus. The biosensors now presented are the further development of this technology.

“We wanted to contribute to the global fight against the virus and came up with the idea of ​​incorporating biosensors into face masks in order to detect SARS-CoV-2,” explains Louis Swinksen, co-first author of the book. studying. The entire project has been quarantined from May 2020 and implemented under strict social distancing.

How do biosensors recognize SARS-CoV-2?

As the working group reports, a small amount of water is initially released at the push of a button, activating the biosensors. When the sensors come into contact with SARS-CoV-2, a reaction occurs in which the virus membrane is cut and the RNA is opened. This is followed by a second reaction that makes copies of a specific gene in the spike protein of the virus. These transcripts can then be perceived by a third reaction, resulting in a signal about the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

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Users are then told in the form of a simple line pattern, based on the principle of a pregnancy test, whether or not SARS-CoV-2 is present in their breath. As the team notes, SARS-CoV-2 biosensors are the first portable, easy-to-use testing option that operates at room temperature and allows rapid, lab-free assay with the accuracy of a PCR test.

The birth of a face mask diagnosis?

“This work shows that cell-free, freeze-dried synthetic biology technology works on clothing and can be harnessed for new diagnostic applications, including the development of face mask diagnostics,” said Professor Jim Collins, senior author of the study. The technology can be transferred to other pathogens such as influenza. (FP)

Author and source information

This text complies with the requirements of the specialized medical literature, clinical guidelines and current studies and has been examined by medical professionals.


Diploma Editor (FH) Volker Plasik


  • Harvard University: A face mask can help diagnose COVID-19 (veröffentlicht: 06.28.2021),
  • Nguyen, Louis R.; Swinksen, Nina M. Donggia, et al.: Wearable materials with embedded synthetic biosensors for biomolecular detection; In: Nature Biotechnology, 2021,

important note:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. It cannot replace a visit to the doctor.


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