Covid-19: Scientists Create Test Using Firefly Enzyme

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Covid-19: Researchers at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) have created a new test that detects antibodies against the new coronavirus. To do this, they combined an enzyme found in fireflies with a protein capable of binding to the virus that causes covid-19. Using bioluminescence, the positive test “glows”.

What is bioluminescence?

The phenomenon that receives the name of bioluminescence is the transformation of chemical energy into light. It takes place from a catalytic enzyme belonging to the class of luciferases.

The luciferase produced by the firefly Amydetes vivianii is one of those that generate the brightest and most stable bioluminescence, which is why it was chosen. According to FAPESP’s press release, the insect is found on UFSCar’s Sorocaba campus and was named in honor of Professor Vadim Viviani, who discovered the species.

Covid-19 tests from fireflies

Professor Viviani investigated the molecular structure and functions of the enzyme present in fireflies and then cloned the DNA that encodes their luciferase in bacteria. “We took our brightest luciferase and genetically engineered it into a protein capable of binding to antibodies. If antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 are present in the sample, the binding will occur and this can be detected by means of light emission”, explained Viviani to Agência FAPESP.

The study was completed in less than a year, using exclusive resources from the Thematic Project “Bioluminescence of arthropods: biological diversity in Brazilian biomes; biochemical origin; structural/functional evolution of luciferases; molecular differentiation of lanterns; biotechnological, environmental and educational applications”, supported by the Foundation for Research Support of the State of São Paulo – FAPESP.

The work, developed at the Biochemistry and Bioluminescent Technologies Laboratory at UFSCar, also had the collaboration of Paulo Lee Ho, from the Butantan Institute.