Frequent, rapid testing for COVID-19 is critical to controlling the spread of outbreaks, especially as new, more transmissible variants emerge.
While today’s gold standard COVID-19 diagnostic test, which uses qRT-PCR — quantitative reverse-transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) — is extremely sensitive, detecting down to one copy of RNA per microliter, it requires specialized equipment, a runtime of several hours and a centralized laboratory facility. As a result, testing typically takes at least one to two days.
A research team led by scientists in the labs of Jennifer Doudna, David Savage and Patrick Hsu at the University of California, Berkeley, is aiming to develop a diagnostic test that is much faster and easier to deploy than qRT-PCR. It has now combined two different types of CRISPR enzymes to create an assay that can detect small amounts of viral RNA in less than an hour. Doudna shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for invention of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing.