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: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

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!
Home Theater

From the Roku Ultra to the Fire TV Cube, these are the best streaming devices

There are more options for media streamers than ever, so it’s more difficult to pick the best option. But that’s why we're here. Our curated list of the best streaming devices will get you online in no time.
Computing

Ryzen 3000 CPUs could be the most powerful ever. Here's what we know

AMD's upcoming Ryzen 3000 generation of CPUs could be the most powerful processors we've ever seen, with higher core counts, greater clock speeds, and competitive pricing. Here's what we know so far, based on both leaks and the recent…
Cars

Baby, you can’t drive my cube: All the insane self-driving lounges at CES 2019

Why drive when you can ride? At CES 2019, car companies are showing off an array of self-driving shuttles, cars, and vans that promise to ferry passengers from Point A to Point B while they kick back and relax in comfort.
Emerging Tech

Watch China’s moon mission touch down on the planet’s far side

Video has been shared of a lander's-eye view of China's Chang'e 4 mission touching down in the Von Kármán Crater on the far side of the moon. The craft captured footage of the descent with a camera which was attached to the probe.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX nails its first launch and landing of 2019, but job cuts loom

SpaceX has nailed its first launch and landing of 2019 with a mission that deployed more satellites for Virginia-based Iridium Communications. But the success was soured somewhat by reports of upcoming job losses at the company.
Emerging Tech

The enormous ‘Flying Bum’ moves toward a commercial design

A prototype of the world's largest aircraft is being retired as the company behind it prepares to build a production model. The new Airlander 10, also known as the "Flying Bum," could be ready for commercial use by 2025.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

The best 3D printers for 2019

On the hunt for a new 3D printer? We've got your back. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned veteran, this list of the best 3D printers has what you're looking for.
Emerging Tech

Wish you could fly? You totally can with these top-of-the-line drones

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Face-scanning A.I. can help doctors spot unusual genetic disorders

Facial recognition can unlock your phone. Could it also be used to identify whether a person has a rare genetic disorder, based on their facial features? New research suggests it can.
Emerging Tech

Lasers and bovine breathalyzer help determine how much methane cows produce

Cow farts and belches don't sound like catastrophic threats, but they contribute to the massive amounts of methane in the atmosphere. Recently, scientists set out to establish the numbers.
Emerging Tech

Researchers discover a way to make 3D printing 100 times faster using light

Researchers at the University of Michigan have invented a new method of 3D printing which is up to 100 times faster than conventional 3D-printing processes. Here's how it works and why it could prove a game-changer for 3D printing.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.