UERJ researchers create device that captures the coronavirus in the air

Researchers at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Uerj) developed a piece of equipment, called CoronaTrap, capable of monitoring the microbiological quality of the air in order to collect samples from the coronavirus to be further analyzed. According to them, this study exposes patterns of behavior of the virus that facilitate the elaboration of strategies to reduce the contamination. The capture is made from aerosols present in the atmosphere in different environments.

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“Most of what you see about airborne contamination is based on mathematical models. I proposed to go to the practical part – said the team leader, Heitor Evangelista, from the Laboratory of Radioecology and Global Change (Laramg) of the Department of Biophysics and Biometrics at UERJ.

According to the teacher, the device can “bind” the coronavirus in a darkroom under ideal conditions, so that this monitoring can be done with a certain degree of precision.

“In the beginning, we lost a lot of data, but I concluded that the tropical conditions of temperature, humidity, solar radiation and ultraviolet levels ended up degrading the virus we collected,” he reported.

CoronaTrap differs from its predecessor, CoronaTrack, in that it no longer depends on an individual moving carrier, and is now able to monitor a wider area, enhancing environmental collections.

Evangelista highlighted that, in order to assemble the current prototype, a series of tests had been carried out since the beginning of the pandemic, when the team turned its attention to combating covid-19.

“We turned our attention to SARS-CoV-2 because it was discovered early in the pandemic that it had the potential for airborne contamination. So I assembled a team of laboratory volunteers. We worked on it, testing, creating, developing to investigate its dynamics in the air.

The professor said that previous versions of the device used conventional methods, and the viral load was lost even before reaching the laboratory. But the study evolved to the point where it managed to keep the virus locked up long enough to be analyzed.

— We have developed a method by which you can capture it in ideal conditions, under refrigeration, in a light-free environment, in a controlled way. That way, we can collect the virus from the air and take it to the laboratory for analysis,” he explained.

The prototype was created with low-cost parts and should start to be used in public schools in the city.

— With this prototype now, from the month of September onwards, I will start monitoring, mainly in public schools with back to school, so we can know how the viral load is in these spaces. We know little about it,” Evangelista said.

The professor’s expectations also involve, in the long term, using the equipment to monitor the microbiological quality of the air in order to fight other diseases, such as tuberculosis, due to its ability to collect other viruses, bacteria and fungi.

— Until now, when we talk about air quality, we talk about physical and chemical quality, but I think this opens a door for microbiological monitoring as well. I think this is very important for us to manage the arrival of new viral strains and other pathologies.

Other suitable environments for using CoronaTrap are indoors with lots of people, such as hospitals and restaurants.

The project is funded by the Second Emergency Call for Projects to Combat the Effects of Covid-19, launched by the Carlos Chagas Filho Foundation for Research Support of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Faperj).

“Only through monitoring can combat be carried out. To defeat an enemy, it is necessary to know him and these systems are fundamental instruments”, stated the researcher in a statement issued by UERJ. “It’s an interesting legacy of our project. We have a very different technology from what is on the market, totally at low cost and developed by UERJ”.

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