AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

From Individual to Environmental: COVID-19 Antigen Testing Expands

Until recently, testing for COVID-19 has focused on the individual rather than on the environment. However, newly introduced technology promises to expand the scope of COVID-19 detection. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have developed an apparatus to detect the presence of the covert virus in SARS-CoV-2 without backgroundenvironmental settings. Previous attempts at this technology have been limited by the volume of air tested. Without adequate air quantity, the sensitivity of the technology is negatively impacted. The current system, however, is capable of concentrating up to 1000 m³ of air per minute, compared to the two to eight cubic meters assessed in previous attempts. The result is a system that increases viral detection sensitivity while maintaining specificity.

The newly introduced apparatus functions by using centrifugal force to approximate viral particles to a liquid matrix adherent to the wall of the test chamber. Within the matrix are found nanobodies, bioengineered antibody fragments derived from llama antibodies. As we discussed in class, the human immune system is composed of humoral and self-mediated factors. Antibodies fall into the humoral category. While human antibodies consist of a light chain and a heavy chain, llama antibodies are composed of two heavy chains. By isolating heavy chain llama antibody fragments sensitized to the COVID-19 spike protein and then splicing multiple sensitized heavy chains together, researchers were able to amplify the viral signal, in a manner similar to PCR.

While the device has yet to be approved, cleared, or authorized by the FDA, it holds promise for meaningful real-world application. For example, prior to a large public event, indoor spaces could be screened for the presence of COVID-19. If the virus were detected, remediation could be performed and the environment retested prior to the public event. In doing so, countless potential COVID-19 infections could be avoided.

This novel technology diverges from current efforts at viral detection in that it does not rely on the existence of an infected individual but rather focuses on environmental detection thereby constituting primary prevention. In the future, the technology could be applied to prevention of other infectious diseases, both viral and bacterial. Further work is needed to explore the potential application of this method.

I urge readers to respond to the above and offer opinions.

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1 Comment

  1. benzyme

    Whoa, Jamesome! I have been antigen-tested for COVID-19 as an individual before and I thought it was interesting, but never had this idea sprung into my head: I called mRNA vaccine technology revolutionary in my last blog post and this environmental antigen testing brings that same feeling to my head. Although in some cases of massive public events it may not be practical to check literally everywhere for the COVID-19 virus, it certainly can be a big help or at least help for smaller public events. Wondering how the COVID-19 virus would actually be gotten rid of when detected, though, I investigated: according to the source I found, viruses can, in fact, be killed. A virus is killed when its outer shell breaks and can be killed by our immune systems as we learned in AP Bio class, but also by UV light. I wonder if UV light is a tool scientists will use to kill COVID-19 virus cells once they are found through environmental antigen testing.

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