Tag Archives: facemask

Masks made of ostrich cells make COVID-19 glow in the dark

In the two years that SARS‑CoV‑2 has ravaged across the globe, it has caused immeasurable human loss. But we as a species have been able to create monumental solutions amidst great adversity. The latest achievement involves a standard face mask that can detect COVID-19 in your breath, essentially making the pathogen visible.

A COVID-19 sample becomes apparent on a mask filter under ultraviolet light. Image credits: Kyoto Prefectural University.

Japanese researchers at Kyoto Prefectural University have created a mask that glows in the dark if COVID-19 is detected in a person’s breath or spit. They did this by coating masks with a mixture containing ostrich antibodies that react when they contact the SARS‑CoV‑2 virus. The filters are then removed from the masks and sprayed with a chemical that makes COVID-19 (if present) viewable using a smartphone or a dark light. The experts hope that their discovery could provide a low-cost home test to detect the virus.

Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, veterinary professor and president of Kyoto Prefectural University, explains the benefits of such a technology: “It’s a much faster and direct form of initial testing than getting a PCR test.”

Tsukamoto notes that it could help those infected with the virus but who show no symptoms and are unlikely to get tested — and with a patent application and plans to commercialize inspection kits and sell them in Japan and overseas within the next year, the test appears to have a bright future. However, this all hinges on large-scale testing of the mask filters and government approval for mass production. 

Remarkably, this all came with a little help from ostriches.

The ostrich immune system is one of the most potent on Earth

To make each mask, the scientists injected inactive SARS‑CoV‑2 into female ostriches, in effect vaccinating them. Scientists then extracted antibodies from the eggs the ostriches produced, as the yolk transfers immunity to the offspring – the same way a vaccinated mother conveys disease resistance to her infant through the placenta. 

An ostrich egg yolk is perfect for this job as it is nearly 24 times bigger than a chicken’s, allowing a more significant number of antibodies to form. Additionally, immune cells are also produced far more quickly in these birds—taking a mere six weeks, as opposed to chickens, where it takes twelve.

Because ostriches have an extremely efficient immune system, thought to be the strongest of any animal on the planet, they can rapidly produce antibodies to fight an enormous range of bacteria and viruses, with a 2012 study in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology showing they could stop Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli in their tracks – experts also predict that this bird will be instrumental in fending off epidemics in the future.

Tsukamoto himself has published numerous studies using ostrich immune cells harvested from eggs to help treat a host of health conditions, from swine flu to hair loss.

Your smartphone can image COVID-19 with this simple test

The researchers started by creating a mask filter coated with a solution of the antibodies extracted from ostriches’ eggs that react with the COVID-19 spike protein. After they had a working material, a small consort of 32 volunteers wore the masks for eight hours before the team removed the filters and sprayed them with a chemical that caused COVID-19 to glow in the dark. Scientists repeated this for ten days. Masks worn by participants infected with the virus glowed around the nose and mouth when scientists shone a dark light on them.

In a promising turn, the researchers found they could also use a smartphone LED light to detect the virus, which would considerably widen the scope of testing across the globe due to its ease of use. Essentially, it means that the material could be used to the fullest in a day-to-day setting without any additional equipment.

“We also succeeded in visualizing the virus antigen on the ostrich antibody-carrying filter when using the LED ultraviolet black light and the LED light of the smartphone as the light source. This makes it easy to use on the mask even at home.”

To further illustrate the practicability of the test, Tsukamoto told the Kyodo news agency he discovered he was infected with the virus after he wore one of the diagnostic masks. The diagnosis was also confirmed using a laboratory test, after which authorities quarantined him at a hotel.

Next, the team aims to expand the trial to 150 participants and develop the masks to glow automatically without special lighting. Dr. Tsukamoto concludes: “We can mass-produce antibodies from ostriches at a low cost. In the future, I want to make this into an easy testing kit that anyone can use.”

New York makes face masks mandatory, but US guidance remains erratic

The United States seems to be shedding its initial reluctancy to impose or at least encourage the use of facemasks, following weeks of mixed signals from the Trump administration.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Credit Flickr

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has just ordered all people to wear a face-covering while in public, giving an initial three-day grace period. The state is moving towards “a new normal,” said Cuomo, as he eyes a gradual reopening of businesses.

“Where we’re going, it’s not reopening in that we’re going to reopen what was. We’re going to a different place,” Cuomo said. “If you are going to be in a situation, in public, where you come into contact with other people [and not] not socially distanced, you must have a mask or a cloth covering nose and mouth.”

As part of that phased reopening, people will now have to wear protective masks, Cuomo said, so far dismissing the use of fines. The order to use masks will be applied to people on public transit and in public spaces, including stores. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a mask — scarfs and bandanas will also be accepted, but some form of facial covering will be mandatory.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has also recently asked grocery stores to insist customers wear masks while shopping.

“I’m asking every store to put up a sign that you’re required to wear a face covering. This is another one of the things we have to do to protect each other,” he said at his daily press briefing.

A few days before New York’s decision, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its national coronavirus guidelines, now recommending wearing facemasks in public places “where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain […] especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

The CDC had only suggested medical workers use facemasks first but decided to change its guidelines based on “new evidence” that shows individuals can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms, meaning the virus can spread between those who are interacting close to each other.

In line with the CDC, President Trump also reversed previous guidance that suggested masks were unnecessary for people who weren’t sick and now is recommending to wear “non-medical cloth” face coverings. Nevertheless, the recommendations are only voluntary.

Despite his own government’s recommendations, Trump won’t likely be wearing a mask in the near future. “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it,” he said, adding, “Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don’t see it.”

Even the US Surgeon General first explicitly asked people to not wear masks, saying that this could actually increase the spread of coronavirus, and can now be seen sharing videos on his social media accounts on how to make a face mask out of old cloth and two rubber bands.

This is understandably creating confusion among the American citizens. But it’s not just the US. While Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong recommended widespread face masks right away, most health organizations gave completely opposite guidance and are now changing their mind.