If the mosquitoes in a given area start carrying viruses such as Zika or Dengue, then the sooner that local health authorities know, the better. And while existing mosquito-testing procedures take at least week to deliver results, a new biosensor does so in less than an hour.

Developed by a team at Indiana's Purdue University, the device incorporates an electrode which is coated with a material that has a high surface area. When a biological sample from a virus-infected mosquito is placed on the material, the DNA or RNA of the virus binds to it. This changes the surface resistance of the electrode, which is detected by the sensor. It, in turn, alerts the user to the presence of the virus.

By analyzing the degree of the change in resistance, the sensor is additionally able to differentiate between different types of viruses (it can't detect bacteria-based diseases such as malaria, however). As an added bonus, it should cost less than currently-used technology.

"The sensor provides early detection so you can intervene earlier," says Prof. Lia Stanciu, co-founder of Purdue spin-off company SMK Diagnostics, which is commercializing the device. "If local agencies know there's a danger, they can intervene early to try to make sure it doesn't get transmitted to people."

Fast, inexpensive methods of detecting Zika and other mosquito-borne viruses are also being developed by scientists at the University of Queensland, Sandia National Laboratories and Harvard University.

Source: Purdue University