Researchers have developed a device to quickly capture and identify various strains of virus.
"We have developed a fast and inexpensive handheld device that can capture viruses based on size," said study researcher Mauricio Terrones from Penn State University.
"Our device uses arrays of nanotubes engineered to be comparable in size to a wide range of viruses. We then use Raman spectroscopy to identify the viruses based on their individual vibration," Terrones added.
This device, called a VIRRION, has a wide range of possible uses. For farmers, for example, early detection of a virus in the field can save an entire crop. Early detection of a virus in livestock can save a herd from illness.
Humans also will benefit from the detection of viruses in minutes rather than in days with current methods.
According to the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, because of its size and low cost, such a device would be useful in every doctor's office as well as in remote locations when disease outbreaks occur.
Currently, virologists estimate that 1.67 million unknown viruses are in animals, a number of which can be transmitted to humans.
Known viruses, such as H5N1, Zika and Ebola have caused widespread illness and death.
"Most current techniques require large and expensive pieces of equipment," Terrones said.
"The VIRRION is a few centimetres across. We add gold nanoparticles to enhance the Raman signal so that we are able to detect the virus molecule in very low concentrations. We then use machine learning techniques to create a library of virus types," Terrones added.
According to the researchers, the VIRRION enables the rapid enrichment of virus particles from any type of sample -- environmental or clinical -- which jump-starts viral characterisation.
This has applications in virus emergence, virus discovery and in diagnosis.
"We synthesized a gradient of aligned carbon nanotube forest arrays to capture different viruses according to their size and detect them in-situ using Raman spectroscopy," said study lead author Ying-Ting Yeh.
"We designed and assembled a portable platform that enriches virus particles from several millilitres of clinical samples in a couple of minutes," Ting Yeh added.
"We hope to use this device for the capture and sequencing of single virions, giving us a much better handle on the evolution of the virus in real-time," said Elodie Ghedin from New York University.