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Nano-biosensors Offer Cost-Effective SARS-CoV-2 Identification

A novel systemic review has been published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, outlining the promising use of innovative devices for the diagnosis of Coronavidae family members.

Nanobiosensors Offer Cost-Effective SARS-CoV-2 Identification

Study: Updating the use of nano-biosensors as promising devices for the diagnosis of coronavirus family members: A systematic review. Image Credit: creativeneko/

The use of nano-biosensors within clinical practice may prove useful for the detection of early coronavirus infection.

Coronavirus and Coronavidae Family Members

The coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, announced by the World Health Organization in March 2019, had a severe impact on global populations with high morbidity and mortality within the vulnerable, elderly, and immunocompromised groups.

The severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that this disease is attributed to displays a genome with high homology to other coronavirus family members.

Interestingly, this current COVID-19 virus has been found to have 79% homology to the SARS-CoV genome as well as 50% homology to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS-CoV-2) genome.

The commonality with these coronavirus family members can be found in both the genome and associated pathogenicity, which causes the COVID-19 virus to have high transmissibility.

Pathology and Detection Markers

The SARS-CoV-2 genome consists of a 30 kb single positive-stranded RNA encoding 10 genes, as well as a spike glycoprotein that has a high binding affinity to the host cell receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE 2). 

The virus works mainly through the spike (S) protein and the viral receptor-binding domain within that recognizes the (ACE2) receptor once inside the host.

The matrix (M) protein carries the role for transmembrane nutrient transport and virus envelope formation, while other proteins such as the nucleocapsid (N) and small envelope (E) proteins, work to obstruct the host immune response amongst other roles.

The diagnosis of the SARS-CoV-2 virus relies on antigen biomarkers such as the S and N proteins, which are considered to be the most valuable for diagnostics.

Additionally, with the spike protein having the lowest sequence homology rate among the other coronavidae family member genomes, it can be used effectively as an antigen target for the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 specifically.

The spread of coronavidae viruses can be thought of as a high concern for global populations, with SARS-CoV emerging in 2002 and resulting in over 8,000 cases, as well as the emergence of MERS-CoV in 2018, which caused 2,143 cases.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus which caused the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in December 2019, resulting in more than 167 million cases and more than 3 million deaths.


The concern of large-scale outbreaks from this viral family has led to innovative research comprising the use of nano-biosensors.

The detection of SARS-CoV-2 is based on RNA sequences coding for viral proteins and the gold-standard for detecting and diagnosing the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).

Additionally, other immunological assays have also been used for detecting the presence of IgM and IgG immunoglobulins against the virus, through devices such as lateral flow immunoassays, enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) and chemiluminescence enzyme immunoassays (CLIA).

Although these techniques have aided in the detection of the virus, their associated limitations, such as PCR tests being time-consuming and expensive, as well as lateral flow tests being not as effective, has furthered research into the use of nano-biosensors for a detection method that is portable, cost-efficient, simple and fast.

The potential of nano-biosensors for this application may be revolutionary, not only for the SARS-CoV-2 virus but for all coronavidae family members, which have all proven to be a danger to human health with high transmissibility rates.

Using Nanomaterials for Enhanced Diagnosis

Nanomaterials less than 100 nm in size can prove to be useful for this application due to their large surface area to volume ratio and remarkable physicochemical properties.

Additionally, the incorporation of nanomaterials enhances the performance of biosensors through increasing the signal amplification and therefore increasing the sensitivity of detection.

Examples of nanomaterials that can enhance the sensitivity and detection of biosensors includes graphene, carbon nanotubes, magnetic nanoparticles as well as quantum dots.

These nanomaterials can carry biological recognition elements that have been immobilized onto their surface and once coupled to transducers can be used to detect coronaviruses within clinical samples.

This strategy for developing nano-biosensors can include DNA receptors, aptamers and even antibodies in order to be used against viral particles.

The use of DNA or RNA aptamer and nucleic acid sequences within nanodevices can bind to DNA or RNA targets with high specificity. This is significant as with a high level of detection for the coronavirus, as well as having stability, low cost, and rapid response, the broad use of aptamers as well as nano-biosensor as a whole can be exploited to target any virus molecule – a benefit for preventing future pandemics.

This area of research is expansive with many studies investigating the use of nanomaterials for biosensor development.

Attaching the N protein from the SARS-CoV-2 virus to gold nanoparticles has been explored as an advanced rapid detection test for certain immunoglobulins, which was found to have a 100% diagnostic specificity for early detection of the virus.

This study was one of many to have been developed by researchers to produce a more effective and efficient diagnostic method for the coronavirus, with a potential to also be modified for all viruses.

Nano-biosensor research is critical on a global scale to reduce the occurrence of future pandemics, a concern that has now been met with progressive research to hinder pathogenic viruses.


Aquino, A., Paschoalin, V., Tessaro, L., Raymundo-Pereira, P. and Conte-Junior, C., (2022) Updating the use of nano-biosensors as promising devices for the diagnosis of coronavirus family members: A systematic review. Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, 211, p.114608. Available at:

Further Reading 

Cascella M, Rajnik M, Aleem A, et al. Features, Evaluation, and Treatment of Coronavirus (COVID-19) [Updated 2022 Jan 5]. In: StatPearls [online]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; Available from:

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Marzia Khan

Written by

Marzia Khan

Marzia Khan is a lover of scientific research and innovation. She immerses herself in literature and novel therapeutics which she does through her position on the Royal Free Ethical Review Board. Marzia has a MSc in Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine as well as a BSc in Biomedical Sciences. She is currently working in the NHS and is engaging in a scientific innovation program.


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