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UT Students developing DIY test to detect Zika in mosquitoes

KEYE

Students at the University of Texas are taking on the Zika virus. A project already underway will eventually allow homeowners to easily test mosquitoes in their own backyards for various viruses.

Undergrads in the Freshman Research Initiative are developing do-it-yourself diagnostics for mosquitoes.

"It's just a quick and really efficient way of being able to identify whether or not a mosquito is carrying a disease," says Nicole Pederson, at UT student working on the project.

Their goal is to keep everything cheap, easy to use and portable. The DIY kit would be a helpful tool for researchers in third world countries

"They'd be able to tell right then in that particular area what's going on," says Rachel Boaz, another student working on the project.

"Everything here is student designed ... student created," explains Tim Riedel, a research educator and clinical assistant professor in the University of Texas College of Natural Sciences.

The current prototype uses heat, LED lights and a 3D printed box. Run a mosquito through their system to test the insect's DNA.

"Literally, just squish it in there and be able to tell if it has certain diseases such as Zika [and] malaria," explains Boaz.

"We're trying to keep it as simple as possible," adds Riedel.

A bright light means the mosquito is testing positive for the virus.

"It takes about an hour or so to get results," says Barrett Morrow, a student who is also working on the project.

Students started on the project long before Zika made headlines. "Then, I heard it in the news and I was like, 'Wait we're working on that!'" says Boaz.

The project's potential for real world value makes students invested in coming up with a compact final product that can be pushed to the commercial market.

"My parents are in the healthcare industry. They're nurses and they work on sick people a lot so I thought, 'Why don't I try doing something that relates to how to make their job easier,'" adds UT Jessica Popoola.

The students plan on writing a smartphone app that would interpret the results and send that information to public health agencies monitoring infectious disease. One day, their same platform could be utilized to test bodily fluid or even food for bacteria.

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