Virus Detecting Mask

A new device that combines disposable masks with biological testing circuits could soon be used to detect COVID-19 as well as other disease-causing viruses and chemical agents.

The masks utilize synthetic biological sensors to detect genetic sequences. In the past, these types of sensors have required the use of living cells, which poses a biohazard risk. But a new method has been developed to make freeze-dried, cell-free circuits that can be applied to porous materials like textiles and paper. When hydrated and exposed to a person’s exhaled breath — which is a convenient non-invasive source for sampling organisms like COVID-19 — an enzymatic reaction releases a fluorescent protein within 90 minutes of activation.

Sensitivity of the test is similar to other tests for COVID-19. The developers hope to commercialize the single-use masks at a targeted price of $5.00.

For information: James Collins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Biological Engineering, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139; phone: 617-324-6607; email:; Web site: or