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5 Minute Virus Test

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

Coronavirus test that can detect pathogen in 5 minutes developed by Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna.

A team of California-based researchers have developed a test that can detect the coronavirus in five minutes using gene-editing technology and a modified mobile phone camera, a discovery that could solve the issue of both under-testing and slow results.

Led by University of California, Berkeley’s Dr Jennifer Doudna, who is the joint winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for chemistry, the test’s successful development was announced in a research paper published on September 30. The paper is still in preprint, meaning it has not been peer-reviewed. Which essentially means that it's still in the 'maybe' column; but there's much optimism the team are really on to something here.

Without swift and accurate testing, governments are deprived of real-time snapshots of how an infection is spreading. But if this new test is successfully commercialised and scaled up, people could receive nearly immediate Covid-19 tests, even from the comfort of their home.

The test can detect the virus using a mobile phone camera and a portable device fitted with low-cost laser illumination and collection optics, avoiding the bulky laboratory equipment currently being used worldwide.

The breakthrough CRISPR gene-editing tool co-discovered by Doudna that won her the Nobel Prize was applied to samples of the virus that causes Covid-19. The tool makes detection of viral matter easier without having to amplify the DNA, allowing for greater accuracy.

Doudna’s team successfully combined multiple CRISPR strands in tandem, increasing the sensitivity of the test and making amplification unnecessary. This was the key behind the drastic reduction in testing time, from one hour to five minutes. Moreover, the sensitivity of the test means not only can it detect whether a sample is either positive or negative for the coronavirus, it can quantify how much viral matter is in a sample.

“None of the current rapid testing options provide quantitative results, which could help evaluate an individual’s level of infection and progression of disease,” the paper said.


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