COVID-19 has turned the world upside down. While vaccination drives in several countries have gained momentum, the threat of a third wave in some countries, including India, looms large. A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a wearable biosensor technology that can help face masks detect COVID-19 in your breath.

The study, “Wearable materials with embedded synthetic biology sensors for biomolecule detection,” has been published in the Nature Biotechnology journal. These wearable biosensors have been installed in standard KN95 face masks to identify if the virus was present in a person’s breath. And it’s quick too. Researchers said that you can activate sensors with a button and the readout strip reflects results within 90 minutes. Not just that, the accuracy level is just the same as the standard PCR COVID tests, they added.

Peter Nguyen, a research scientist at the Wyss Institute and co-author of the study, said that the team essentially brought an entire diagnostic laboratory into a small, synthetic biology-based sensor that works with any face mask, adding, that it had the high accuracy of PCR tests with the speed and low cost of antigen tests. “In addition to face masks, our programmable biosensors can be integrated into other garments to provide on-the-go detection of dangerous substances, including viruses, bacteria, toxins, and chemical agents,” Nguyen said in a statement

Nina Donghia, a staff scientist at the Wyss Institute and a co-author on the study, said that this advanced technology can also be used to equip lab coats of scientists working with hazardous materials or pathogens and even the uniforms of first responders and military personnel “who could be exposed to dangerous pathogens or toxins, such as nerve gas.”

The team is now looking for manufacturing partners who can produce these masks in large numbers so that they are made available during the pandemic, researchers said.