Smartphone app can help detect norovirus in the field

Researchers from the University of Arizona in Tucson developed a new method for detecting norovirus that involves the use of a smartphone.

While detecting norovirus in small quantities typically requires laboratory settings with microscopes, lasers and spectrometers, the new method can be used to detect norovirus in the field using paper, in the form of microfluidic chips, and a smartphone.

The process involves adding water potentially contaminated with norovirus to one end of a paper microfluidic chip. Fluorescent polystyrene beads are added to the other end of the chip. Each bead is attached to an antibody that acts against norovirus. If there is norovirus present in the water sample, several antibodies attach to the virus particle forming a clump of fluorescent beads.

A smartphone microscope is then used to photograph the clumps, and an app created by the research team counts the number of illuminated pixels in the image, which allows users to identify the number of beads in the clumps, and then, the number of norovirus particles in the sample.

"You don't have to be a scientist or an engineer to run the device," said Jeong-Yeol Yoon, a researcher in the department of biomedical engineering and a project leader. "Analysis will be done automatically by the smartphone app, so all you have to worry about is loading a sample of water onto the chip."

The team detailed the method in ACS Omega, the official journal of the American Chemical Society, and presented the research at the ACS fall 2019 national meeting in San Diego, ending Aug. 29.

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