To better track disease spread among troops, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working to develop a handheld device for tracking thousands of diseases, including COVID-19.

The Detect It with Gene Editing Technologies (DIGET) program aims to use CRISPR — a family of DNA sequences contained in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms including bacteria and archaea — technology to detect different diseases via DNA samples.

The handheld technology promises to quickly identify diseases to enable military leaders to better track diseases in real time, to better guide strategic decisions and to potentially contain disease outbreaks in the future.

To accomplish this, the researchers will create two nucleic acid detection devices: a disposable diagnostic for up to 10 pathogens and host biomarkers and a massively multiplexed detection (MMD) device for 1,000+ targets.

In addition to being used during the COVID-19 pandemic, the device would be appropriate for use during future global health crises. Following the identification of the genetic sequence of a new disease, a new array could potentially be developed for detecting the disease in just one day, according to the researchers.

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