The development team holding the instrument and the cartridge. (Credit: University of Illinois)

Researchers have developed an instrument that can be clipped on to a smartphone to rapidly test for Zika virus in a single droplet of blood.

A cartridge that contains reagents required to detect the virus is inserted into the instrument to perform the test while the instrument is clipped onto a smartphone. Once the patient adds a drop of blood, one set of chemicals break open the viruses and the blood cells within five minutes. A heater below the cartridge heats it up to 65 °C. A second set of chemicals then amplifies the viral genetic material, and the liquid inside the cartridge fluoresces bright green if the blood sample contains the Zika virus. The entire process takes 25 minutes.

The clip-on device uses the smartphone’s rear camera, which looks at the cartridge while the amplification occurs. When there’s a positive reaction, little green blooms of fluorescence eventually fill up the entire cartridge with green light.

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