A team of scientists at a university in western Japan has developed masks that glow when exposed to ultraviolet light if they contain traces of the coronavirus, using antibodies extracted from ostrich eggs.

The team at Kyoto Prefectural University, headed by its president, Yasuhiro Tsukamoto, 52, hopes the masks will offer users an easy way to test whether they have contracted the virus.

A coronavirus sample glows on a face mask filter under an ultraviolet light after being sprayed with a fluorescent dye containing antibodies. (Photo courtesy of Kyoto Prefectural University)(Kyodo)

With testing continuing to put them into practical use, the team aims to gain government approval to sell the masks possibly next year.

Ostriches are capable of producing several different kinds of antibody, or proteins that neutralize foreign entities in the body.

In February last year, the team injected an inactive and non-threatening form of the coronavirus into female ostriches, successfully extracting a large quantity of antibodies from the eggs that they laid.

The team then developed a special filter that is placed inside the face mask. The filter can be taken out and sprayed with a fluorescent dye containing the coronavirus antibodies from the ostrich eggs. If the virus is present, the filter will glow when shone under an ultraviolet light.

When the team conducted experiments over the course of up to 10 days with 32 people infected with the coronavirus, they found that all the masks they wore glowed under the UV light, which faded as time went by and their viral load decreased.

Tsukamoto's team next aims to expand the experiment to cover 150 participants. The university president discovered that he himself was positive for COVID-19 after wearing one of the experimental masks and finding it glowed when checked. He confirmed his status with a polymerase chain reaction test.

"We can mass-produce antibodies from ostriches at a low cost. In the future, I want to make this into an easy testing kit that anyone can use," Tsukamoto said.

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