ScienceNo, teenagers did not invent STI-detecting color-changing condoms
Scientifically, “S.T.EYE” is a pipe dream. And it's pure tabloid bait, combining some of tabloids' favorite things: smart children, sex, and shaming people.
The papers are falling over themselves on reporting on the “S.T.EYE”, a concept by a group of school children for a condom that changes color when a sexually transmitted infection, like chlamydia or syphilis, is detected.
If that sounds too good to be true, it is, because if you don’t read it carefully, you won’t notice that the S.T.EYE doesn’t exist.
This is pure tabloid bait, combining some of tabloids' favorite things: smart children, sex, and shaming people. The concept is cute and the teenagers involved won some money. However, if you’ve ever gotten an STI screening in real life, and I don’t blame middle schoolers for their lack of experience, you’ll know that it takes a few days. There’s a good reason it takes even a well-staffed hospital a while.
There are basically two techniques that are commonly used to test for STIs. One involves antibodies, and the other, amplifying the DNA captured. The articles mention that they want to use antibodies, which means we’re in the realm of something called ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. An antibody is a special protein that bonds to antigens or a unique molecule on the outside of the bacteria or virus you’re targeting. But on its own, the antibody binding is invisible.
How does it reveal a positive result? It antibody has a special molecule on the back of it. After you wash away any antibodies not attached, or else the test will show positive all the time, an enzyme that reacts to the special molecule is put on the sample, causing a visible color change. You could just pull out and stick your dick into a beaker to run the test, but that sounds irritating. Barring a type of hyperfuturistic nanotech machine attached on the end of the antibody that could do the color change, this method is impossible.
As for molecules that can change color there is one known as, 1,1’-Azobis-1,2,3-triazole. Anyone versed in chemistry will be nervous now, because lots of nitrogens next to each other means highly explosive. The research was done by the State Key Laboratory of Explosion Science and Technology in Beijing. An explosive condom is not the best idea.
The latter is known as PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, and is now common and relatively inexpensive. Using repeated heating and cooling and an enzyme, many copies of DNA can be made. However, this requires a machine, and the idea of hopping off someone, swabbing your condom, dropping it into an intensely expensive bedside clinical PCR machine, and waiting a few hours isn’t exactly a great idea either. Oh, and you’ll need to be a lab tech.
This idea is a pipe-dream. The stigma behind having an STI can’t be reversed overnight, nor will magic condoms solve the spread of STIs. A better interim solution would be to subsidize mail-in testing. You should be able to order a discrete box shipping to your home, and inside would be a sterile swab with a lidocaine tip, because you’ll need to swab your urethra, or do a quick blood prick test, and mail that back to a certified lab. You can actually buy one right now from Amazon.
Cover image: Wiki