Jellyfish help experts identify the coronavirus in the air

Posted at 4:38 PM, Oct 21, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay area is known for its crystal clear beaches and white sand.

Many people see the saltwater as a place to relax and kick back, but Dr. Serene Al-Momen sees it as a vast area of opportunity to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Specifically with what lies under the surface.

"The jellyfish is the component of the sensor that basically makes the cell emit light when a pathogen from the air is connected to it or binds to it," Dr. Al-Momen said.

Dr. Al-Momen is the CEO of the company Senseware. She said the jellyfish is helping her team identify the coronavirus in the air.

Her team works to find what's in the air behind the scenes. They do it with a sensor box not much bigger than an Amazon Echo at home.

The sensor can detect pathogens in the air like Ecoli, SARS and anthrax.

In March, they shifted gears in what type of pathogen they wanted to find.

"We took what we had and we kind of improved on it to really meet the challenges of today with COVID," Dr. Al-Momen said.

The sensor can count particles down to the smallest micron that the common eye would never catch.

To detect the coronavirus, they made adjustments.

"For COVID, we have the SARS code 2 antibody in that cell. So, what happens is when we get the sample of the air and the sensor gets the sample of the air there is a pathogen that binds into the cell and connects to it it will emit light," Dr. Al-Momen said.

To help identify pathogens scientists use a luminescent component from a jellyfish; something that is nothing new when working to identify viruses and diseases.

"This particular methodology was created in the early 2000s by the MIT Lincoln Labs to specifically identify anthrax threats when anthrax was an issue," Dr. Al-Momen said.

The jellyfish's protein helps light up a cell when a pathogen from the air is connected to or binds to it.

The team then uses sophisticated algorithms that measure the intensity of the light that can determine whether it's positive or negative.

The sensors cost tens of thousands of dollars and are geared towards larger corporations such as hospitals and senior care facilities.

Senseware is currently in the Beta testing phase and they hope to offer the machine commercially by November.

For more information about Senseware, visit their website.

This story originally reported by Vanessa Araiza on