Identifying the Novel Coronavirus

Scientists develop a faster, less expensive COVID-19 test that can be deployed in the field

May 5, 2020
Lab plate.
Lab plate.

One of the greatest frustrations in the response to the pandemic in the U.S. has come from the lack of tests. COVID-19 is swift and stealthy, spreading through person-to-person contact as well as via contaminated surfaces. Many carriers are asymptomatic, often unaware they are shedding the virus wherever they go. How can its path be traced, let alone predicted, if we can’t figure out who has it — and who doesn’t?

MCDB professors Max Wilson, Kenneth S. Kosik, Diego Acosta-Alvear and Carolina Arias are hoping to help change this situation. They have developed a CRISPR-based test that promises to be just as sensitive as conventional tests, but also faster and deployable in the field — qualities that the current method of testing lacks. And because the researchers’ CREST (Cas13-based, Rugged, Equitable, Scalable Testing) assay is based on a method different from the conventional PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, it is not subject to the ongoing reagent shortage.