Biologist develops Ebola test on a piece of paper

Slips of paper like these could carry freeze-dried ingredients for simple Ebola tests

A synthetic biologist at Boston University may have come up with a way to make a cheap diagnostic test for viruses like Ebola.

James Collins, in a report in Cell, says that he’s been able to print the ingredients for simple DNA experiments on paper, freeze dry them, and use them as much as a year later. Apart from diagnostic tests, the technology could lead to bandages that change color if an infection is developing, environmental sensors worn on clothing, as MIT Technology Review reports.

The technology is an adaptation of a workhorse lab method known as a “cell free system,” in which the basic processes of a cell—such as reading a DNA strand to make a protein—are carried out in a test tube.

The advance Collins made was to embed cell-free systems onto porous paper. His team added some essential enzymes as well as specially designed genes that make proteins, but only if they’re triggered by a matching strand of DNA or RNA.

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