Ebola Detected In Minutes On Cheap Paper Testing Strips

Ebola detection on a simple strip of paper in about half an hour almost sounds too good to be true, but a synthetic biologist at Boston University says he has accomplished the feat.

According to MIT Technology Review, James Collins was able to develop a printed piece of prototype paper which can detect Ebola. The paper can be freeze dried and kept up to a year, which could lead to inexpensive diagnostic testing strips soon.

Collins’ team used a process called the “cell free system” in which cellular processes are copied and placed in a test tube for observation; however, Collins’ team used the process on a piece of porous paper instead of the test tube, according to UPI.

The paper test will change color, from yellow to purple, when the Ebola virus is detected by the biological ingredients on the paper in about 30 minutes.

Ebola testing paper
Ebola testing strips made of porous paper carry freeze-dried ingredients for certain scientific experiments.

Collins maintains the tests are very cheap to make, with strips costing under 65 cents. This cheap and quick testing could be made in about a day.

“In a period of just 12 hours, two of my team managed to develop 24 sensors that would detect different regions of the Ebola genome, and discriminate between the Sudan and the Zaire strains.”

The Ebola test strip is stable in room temperature, which would be helpful in areas where refrigerators and electricity are not common, according to the BBC.

Although the strip testing is not ready for easy laboratory use in areas suffering from an Ebola epidemic, Collins believes developing a type of test similar to the one his team developed to detect Ebola would be fairly simple to produce.

The paper test could be redesigned to detect Ebola in bandages, on environmental sensors and on suits. Eventually, the genetic test paper could be used for more than Ebola detection. With the right ingredients, the test could detect other diseases.


“We are very excited about this,” Collins admitted. “In terms of significance, I rank this alongside all the other breakthroughs I’ve been involved in.”

Lingchong You, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, believes the Ebola test strip is “cool” and imagines an “entire fabrication process carried out by computer-aided circuit design, robotics-mediated assembly of circuits and printing onto paper.”

“Conceptually, it’s extremely simple,” he added.

The scientific journal Cell published the research for the Ebola prototype detection paper in detail last week.

[Images via NBC News, Harvard Wyss Institute]