DNA computer could curb virus spread

Summary:A Queensland-developed molecular computer could be used to help identify viruses in the future.

Deadly viruses such as Ebola could be detected faster thanks to a Queensland researcher's development of a molecular computer.

University of the Sunshine Coast senior lecturer Dr Joanne Macdonald says she has created a computer which can diagnose and tell the difference between viruses using molecular circuitry.

Macdonald's research team developed synthetic DNA that mimicked the Ebola and Marburg viruses and demonstrated that the computer could distinguish between them.

The computer screen displayed a pink "E" for Ebola or a green "M" for Marburg.

Macdonald said the computer system will be developed further so that it can identify other viruses, potentially helping to contain dangerous outbreaks.

"Previously you would have to do lots of different tests to tell the difference between the different viruses," she told AAP. "We think we have the ability to embed all those tests into a single device.

"The sooner that you know what virus you have, (the sooner) you can start making decisions to follow where it goes in outbreaks and make decisions about preventing movement.

"If it was an animal virus you could do things like euthanase an animal to help prevent the spread."

The computer system is still in the proof-of-concept stage but Macdonald hopes it could be used to test real virus samples within the next two years.

An outbreak of Ebola in West Africa has killed more than 670 people this year. There is no known cure for the disease, which spreads through direct contact with blood and other bodily fluids.

The Queensland government is funding Macdonald's research in the hopes of enabling earlier detection of the destructive Hendra virus and Australian bat lyssavirus.

Topics: Emerging Tech, Australia, Health

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