V-Pods: Rapid, Sensitive Detection of Intact SARS-CoV-2 using DNA Nets and a Smartphone-Linked Fluorimeter

Neha Chauhan, Weijing Wang, Han Keun Lee, Yanyu Xiong, Tianyi Zhang, Nicholas Magazine, Lu Peng, Lifeng Zhou, Weishan Huang, Xing Wang, Brian T. Cunningham

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Rapid, simple, inexpensive, and sensitive self-testing for SARS-CoV-2 is expected to be an important element of controlling the ongoing COVID pandemic. We report a novel approach in which saliva is mixed at room temperature with a Designer DNA Nanostructure (DDN) engineered to create a net-like structure that positions an array of highly specific nucleic acid aptamer-quencher locks at the locations of the trimeric spike proteins. When the spike proteins selectively unlock aptamers on the DDN, fluorescent reporter molecules are unquenched, generating an intense and easily measured optical signal. The fluorescence intensity, proportional to the virus concentration, is detected by a battery-powered palm-sized fluorimeter, whose functions are managed wirelessly with a Bluetooth-linked smartphone. Because the single-step, room temperature, test is performed in a conventional 0.2 mL PCR tube that is inserted into the fluorimeter, which resembles an Apple AirPods™ headphone case, we call the technology (DDN+fluorimeter+App) a “V-Pod.” We show that DDNs are highly specific only for detection of SARS-CoV-2 in both its initial form as well as common variants. The approach achieves a detection limit of 10,000 genome copies/mL, consistent with laboratory-based PCR, while requiring only one reagent and a 5-10 minute incubation time with saliva. Because DDNs are inexpensively synthesized, structurally stable nucleic acid constructs, and the V-Pod instrument is comprised of inexpensive electronic and photonic components, the approach offers potential for rapid self-monitoring of viral infection with integrated capability for contact tracing and interaction with health services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSmart Biomedical and Physiological Sensor Technology XIX
EditorsBrian M. Cullum, Douglas Kiehl, Eric S. McLamore
ISBN (Electronic)9781510651227
StatePublished - 2022
EventSmart Biomedical and Physiological Sensor Technology XIX 2022 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 6 2022Jun 12 2022

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X
ISSN (Electronic)1996-756X


ConferenceSmart Biomedical and Physiological Sensor Technology XIX 2022
CityVirtual, Online


  • biosensors
  • diagnostics
  • point of care
  • SARS-CoV-2

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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