New face mask detects SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens in the breath – healing practice

Biosensors in masks can help with a COVID-19 diagnosis

Many people feel insecure during the COVID-19 pandemic after coming into contact with other people. Have I been infected or have I infected others? There is usually no quick answer to such questions. An American research team has now found a way to integrate biosensors into face masks and other textiles in order to receive quick feedback on the presence of pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found a way to embed wearable biosensors in textiles that enable the rapid and accurate detection of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens or toxins. The research was recently published in the renowned specialist journal “Nature Biotechnology” presented.

Mask checks the breath

The biosensors can be individually adjusted so that they alert the wearer as soon as certain viruses, pathogens or toxins are detected. With the new technology, the working group initially wants to produce a face mask that checks whether there are coronaviruses of the SARS-CoV-2 type in the breath.

Accuracy comparable to PCR test

The biosensors are activated at the push of a button and analyze the breath of the wearer. The integrated biosensors can determine whether there is a SARS-CoV-2 infection within 90 minutes. According to the working group, the accuracy is comparable to the results of a PCR test.

A diagnostic laboratory in the face mask

“We have essentially shrunk an entire diagnostic laboratory to a small, synthetic biology-based sensor that works with any face mask and combines the high accuracy of PCR tests with the speed and low cost of antigen tests,” summarizes Peter Nguyen from the research team together.

Not only suitable for face masks

“In addition to the face masks, our programmable biosensors can be integrated into other items of clothing in order to detect dangerous substances such as viruses, bacteria, toxins and chemical substances in the environment while on the move,” adds Nguyen.

Biosensors from freeze-dried cells

The researchers are particularly proud of the SARS-CoV-2 biosensor, which emerged from three years of research. It is based on a technology in which cells read the DNA and produce certain RNA and proteins in the process. These cells are freeze-dried and are activated when they come in contact with water.

These biological elements can be stored for long periods of time and can be equipped with synthetic circuits that convert the reactions of the cells into a perceptible signal when activated.

First applied to the Zika virus

The underlying technology was first used in 2015 during a Zika virus outbreak. There, similar biosensors were integrated on a piece of paper to create a portable and inexpensive diagnostic tool for detecting the virus. The biosensors now presented are the further development of this technology.

“We wanted to make a contribution to the global fight against the virus and came up with the idea of ​​integrating the biosensors in face masks in order to detect SARS-CoV-2,” explains Luis Soenksen, the first co-author of the study. The entire project was quarantined from May 2020 and was carried out under strict social distancing.

How do the biosensors recognize SARS-CoV-2?

As the working group reports, a small amount of water is initially released at the push of a button, which activates the biosensors. When the sensors come into contact with SARS-CoV-2, a reaction takes place in which the membrane of the virus is cut open and the RNA is exposed. This is followed by a second reaction that makes copies of a specific gene in the virus’ spike protein. These copies can then be perceived by a third reaction, which triggers the signal about the presence of SARS-CoV-2.

The users are then informed in the form of a simple line pattern, based on the principle of a pregnancy test, whether or not SARS-CoV-2 is present in their breath. As the team points out, the SARS-CoV-2 biosensors are the first portable and easy-to-use test option that works at room temperature and enables rapid, laboratory-free screening with the accuracy of a PCR test.

Birth of the face mask diagnosis?

“This work shows that our freeze-dried, cell-free synthetic biology technology works on clothing and can be harnessed for novel diagnostic applications, including the development of a face mask diagnosis,” said Professor Jim Collins, the study’s senior author. The technology can be transferred to other pathogens such as influenza. (vb)

Author and source information

This text complies with the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.


Diploma-Editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Harvard University: Face mask can help diagnose COVID-19 (veröffentlicht: 28.06.2021),
  • Peter Q. Nguyen, Luis R. Soenksen, Nina M. Donghia, et al.: Wearable materials with embedded synthetic biology sensors for biomolecule detection; in: Nature Biotechnology, 2021,

Important NOTE:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.


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