Monash researcher helps develop rapid and accurate COVID-19 test for mass screening

Dr Gavin Knott

An international consortium of scientists, including Dr Gavin Knott from Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute, have developed a CRISPR-based COVID-19 diagnostic test that, using a smartphone camera, is able to deliver a result within 20 minutes and detect how contagious a person is.

Unlike most COVID-19 diagnostic tests – which rely on a method called PCR and can take more than two days to produce a result – the new Fast Integrated Nuclease Detection In Tandem (FIND-IT) test is based on the gene-editing CRISPR technology and can give an accurate result in less than half an hour.

“Existing COVID-19 tests use a method called quantitative PCR, but this requires converting the RNA to DNA,” says Dr Knott, who came to Monash University from UC Berkley earlier this year.

“The new FIND-IT diagnostic test uses Cas13, a cousin of the genome editor Cas9, that is “programmed” to recognise segments of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA and, with the help of a protein called Csm6, fluoresce within 15-30 minutes.”

Dr Knott believes the new, hand held FIND-IT test could be used to check all incoming passengers off a plane, and have them cleared as negative before they have exited the airport.

He says these new CRISPR-based tests are emerging as powerful alternatives to conventional diagnostics as they require no trained personnel, specialised reagents or unwieldy lab equipment.

“Due to the complexity of the existing tests, they typically need trained users, specialised reagents, and cumbersome lab equipment, which severely limits where testing can occur and causes delays in receiving results,” Dr Knott says.

“The FIND-IT diagnostic test is a single step that directly detects the viral RNA.”

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