Scientists use ostrich cells to create masks that glow when they detect COVID-19

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(NEXSTAR) – A team of researchers at a Japanese university have created a mask using ostrich cells that glows when it detects traces of the coronavirus.

The scientists at Kyoto Prefectural University, led by the school’s president, Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, hope that the masks – which haven’t yet been approved for sale – will provide an efficient, cheap testing option, according to The Japan Times.

The team decided to coat a special filter in the mask with ostrich antibodies that target the novel coronavirus based on prior research showing the birds’ strong ability to neutralize the virus.

“We have produced ostrich antibodies to many viruses, bacteria, and allergens, but we were pleased to see how quickly the ostriches developed immunity and placed the anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in their eggs,” Tsukamoto said in a March 2020 press release about the initial antibody discovery. “We were even more pleased to see how capable the antibodies were in blocking the virus that causes COVID-19.”

The masks were tested in a small study in which participants wore them for eight hours, according to Reuters.

The scientists then sprayed the filters with a special dye made with the ostrich coronavirus antibodies that will glow under ultraviolet light if the virus is present, according to the Kyodo news agency. The masks worn by test subjects who had COVID-19 glowed in the areas closest to the nose and mouth. The brightness of the glow diminished as the test subjects recovered and their viral load decreased.

“We can mass-produce antibodies from ostriches at a low cost,” Tsukamoto told the agency. “In the future, I want to make this into an easy testing kit that anyone can use.”

Tsukamoto said that he himself found out he had contracted the virus after wearing one of the experimental masks, which he confirmed with a COVID-19 test.

He said his team is planning a larger study – 150 participants instead of 32 – and hopes that the government will approve the product for the market by next year.

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