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The latest update amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is a new CRISPR gene-editing technology that detects whether you are positive or not within 5 minutes. This diagnostic doesn’t require much expensive laboratory to run but can be installed and used at doctor’s offices, schools, and office buildings. 

What Is CRISPR technology?

The CRISPR technology is a gene-editing technology which is very simple but powerful. It allows researchers to alter and modify the DNA sequences. The many applications of this technology include treatment and prevention of diseases, correcting the genetic factors, and improving crops. 

Here’s how it helps in COVID-19 detection…

Researchers are trying to spread the process of COVID-19 detection with the help of CRISPR technology. For example, in May two teams had reportedly created CRISPR-based COVID-19 tests which could detect the virus within an hour. This method is comparatively faster than the ordinary 24-hour coronavirus detection tests.  

These CRISPR tests work on the identification of the sequences of RNA which are about 20 long RNAs bases, quite similar to SARS-CoV-2.  It identifies by creating a “guide” RNA which is complementary to the target RNA sequence and will ultimately, bind it to a solution. After the binding of the guide to its target, the CRISPR tool’s Cas13 “scissors” enzyme will turn on and will cut any single-stranded RNA which is nearby. These cuts will automatically release a separately induced fluorescent particle into the test solution. After the immersion of this particle, the solution is further exposed to a sudden burst of laser light which emits the particles up thus indicating the presence of the virus.

However, the initial CRISPR tests required the researchers to first amplify any potential viral RNA before running it through the system in order to spot a signal more efficiently. This added complexity and was not cost-effective which made it more time-consuming. 

The new test is different and here’s how…

But the later advancement of this equipment doesn’t require the amplification of the RNA. Researchers led by Jennifer Doudna, who also bagged this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her co-discovery of CRISPR, states that after spending months on testing hundreds of guide RNAs only to find out that multiple guides work in a cycle to increase the sensitivity of this test. 

In the new preprint, the researchers have informed that with the help of a single RNA guide, they could identify as few as 100,000 viruses per microliter of solution, and on the addition of a second guide RNA; they can discover as few as 100 viruses per microliter.

Melanie Ott, a virologist at UC San Francisco who helped lead the project with Doudna, stated that this equipment is not efficient enough when compared to the conventional coronavirus diagnostic setup, which is an expensive laboratory setup. Nevertheless, about this Doudna says that they were able to precisely identify a batch of five positive clinical trials with perfect accurateness in just 5 minutes per test, whereas the standard test procedure can take 1 day or more to return results. 

It looks like they have a really rock-solid test,” says Max Wilson, a molecular biologist at the University of California (UC), Santa Barbara. He also added that the key advantage of this test is the quantification of a sample’s amount of virus. 

On the contrary, Ott’s and Doudna’s team also found out the strength of the fluorescent signal was proportional to the amount of virus in their sample which thereby discovered the quantity of the virus a patient had. This helps the doctors in tailoring the health of the patients. Doudna and Ott, along with their colleagues have said that they are looking for ways for the validation and commercialization of this test equipment. 



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