New $25 blood test can tell you every virus you’ve ever had

blood laser test
science photo/Shutterstock
Ever wanted to look back on the history of your immune system, sort of like how you can look back on your browser history today? Well even if you’ve never had the desire to do such a thing, don’t worry — scientists have developed a way to make it happen.

Detailed in a new report in the journal Science, researchers have developed a new test that can determine every virus that has ever affected you — and all it takes is a single drop of blood. As you would expect, the process is fairly complex, but conceptually it’s fairly easy to understand. Here’s a very basic overview of how it works.

Whenever your body is infected with a virus, your immune system jumps into action, setting loose a team of special white blood cells called T and B lymphocytes. Some T cells are capable of detecting and killing viruses, but others serve as “helpers” for B cells, which then produce antibodies. Antibodies, as you might remember from high school biology class, are the little y-shaped proteins that tag invading cells for destruction.

After your body conquers the virus and clears it from your system, some of these specialist T and B cells stay around to keep a “memory” of the destroyed virus, so that your body can more easily identify it in the event that it should ever come back. The newly-developed technique basically teases out these memories, and uses them to determine all the viruses a person has ever been infected with.

While you might not care to know all the illnesses you’ve ever had, that kind of information is invaluable to virologists. Armed with this data, infectious disease researchers could do amazing things, like track patterns of disease across various populations, help scientists compare immune responses in old and young people, or see how the same virus affects people in different parts of the world. If performed on old blood samples (which labs often store from previous studies), the technique could even be used to help us learn about how viruses spread in the past.

The process is still in the experimental phase, but scientists are already highly optimistic about the potential impact it will have. “This will be a treasure trove for communicable disease epidemiology,” infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University told the New York Times. “It will be like the introduction of the electron microscope. It will allow us to have more resolution at a micro level.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the test isn’t quite ready for primetime just yet. It’s still in the experiemental stages right now, and despite the fact that it’s already farily cheap to administer (about $25 per test), it’s far from perfect. The test still takes weeks to complete, and it can still miss some viruses, including past infections that the body’s immune system is only responding to on a very low level.

Even so, it’s still a very exciting development. With a few more trials and careful testing, the hope is to streamline the test and make it available to the general public. In a couple years, you might just be able to request your “virus history” at your next checkup.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Write music with your voice, make homemade cheese

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Buying Guides

Apple has powered up its iMac lineup, but which one should you opt for?

With new processors and graphics cards for both the 4K and 5K models, the iMac feels like a good option for creatives again. But which should you buy? Here's our guide to choosing the right Apple all-in-one for your needs.

Need more from your conference white board? The Surface Hub 2 should have it

The Surface Hub 2 could be the most expensive whiteboard ever made, but it should be a powerful and capable one. With the ability to connect several of the 50-inch displays together, the picture at least, should be gorgeous.

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.

At $99, Nvidia’s Jetson Nano minicomputer seeks to bring robotics to the masses

Nvidia announced a new A.I. computer, the Jetson Nano. This computer comes with an 128-core GPU that Nvidia claims can handle pretty much any A.I. framework you could imagine. At $99, it's an affordable way for A.I. newbies to get involved.

Nvidia’s A.I. Playground lets you edit photos, experience deep learning research

Nvidia is making it easier to access information on deep learning research. It has launched an online space with three demos for image editing, styling, as well as photorealistic image synthesis. 
Emerging Tech

The U.S. Army is building a giant VR battlefield to train soldiers virtually

Imagine if the U.S. Army was able to rehearse battlezone scenarios dozens, or even hundreds, or times before settling foot on actual terrain. Thanks to virtual reality, that's now a possibility.

British Airways’ new Club Suite for business class comes with a door

British Airways is going after a bigger slice of the business class market with the imminent launch of the Club Suite. The plush seating option offers a more private space as well as an easier route to the bathroom.
Smart Home

Sony’s Aibo robot dog can now patrol your home for persons of interest

Sony released the all-new Aibo in the U.S. around nine months ago, and since then the robot dog has (hopefully) been melting owners' hearts with its cute looks and clever tricks. Now it has a new one up its sleeve.
Emerging Tech

Inflating smart pills could be a painless alternative to injections

Could an inflating pill containing hidden microneedles replace painful injections? The creators of the RaniPill robotic capsule think so — and they have the human trials to prove it.
Emerging Tech

A silver bullet is being aimed at the drug-resistant superbugs on the ISS

A bacteria which is benign here on Earth can mutate into a drug-resistant superbug once it enters space. Now this problem is being tackled by a team of microbiologists who have found a way to inhibit the spread of bacteria in the ISS.
Emerging Tech

Tombot is the hyper-realistic dog robot that puts Spot to shame

Forget Boston Dynamics’ Spot! When it comes to robot dogs, the folks behind a new Kickstarter campaign have plans to stake their claim as makers of man’s (and woman’s) newest best friend.
Emerging Tech

Researchers gave alligators headphones and ketamine, and all for a good cause

Researchers in Germany and the United States recently gave ketamine and earphones to alligators to monitor how they process sounds. Here's what it reveals about alligator evolution.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.