A team of US Army researchers has joined a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)-led programme that seeks to develop a bio-aerosol monitor that can detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

The team includes researchers from the US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), Army Research Laboratory (ARL), Georgia Tech Research Institute, Cardea Bio and the University of Georgia.

According to DARPA, the programme aims to develop a prototype sensor that can detect SARS-CoV-2 in the air and enable the implementation of practical concepts of operation before the virus causes infection in an indoor environment.

Army chemist and team leader Dr Matthew Coppock said: “Monitoring pathogens in the environment remains a challenging area of study.

“ARL has a unique capability to design and synthesise selective biosensor recognition elements using short synthetic peptides, called Protein Catalyzed Capture agents, which mimic the attachment mechanism of antibodies.”

He added that the laboratory will deliver PCC receptors for SARS-CoV-2 produced over the past year in Covid-19 response work, for integration into the sensor hardware.

Once developed, the sensor can help in creating safer work conditions at places of employment, at school and for travel.

Coppock said: “ARL’s biodetection technology is a crucial enabler for persistent biosensing in operational environments.

“The unparalleled thermal and biological stability of the receptors will allow a significantly longer sensor shelf-life and the elimination of cold-chain shipping/storage, a necessity for performance in army working conditions.”

Notably, the US is one of the worst affected nations by the pandemic. As of 2 March, it has recorded more than 28 million cases and around 514,000 fatalities.