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expert reaction to study looking at a CRISPR-based diagnostic tool for the detection of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2

A study, published in Nature Biotechnology, reports on the use of a CRISPR-based diagnostic tool for the detection of the COVID-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2.


Dr Colin Butter, Associate Professor in Bioveterinary Sciences, University of Lincoln, said:

“The paper by Broughton et al., describing a rapid CRISPR-based diagnostic tool for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, adds to the repertoire of possible detection technologies.  Once viral RNA is extracted this technology is more rapid and less dependent on specialist instrumentation and reagents than the presently used real time PCR assay.

“However, in the UK it is not clear where the limiting factor lies in providing testing for the virus, as Public Health England already have sufficient RT-PCR machines at their disposal for many more tests than are being delivered.  Lack of PCR reagents is one possibility, and this new technology would address this.  Equally likely is PHE’s specification of robotic extraction of RNA from viral samples.  The equipment for performing this is less ubiquitous than the RT-PCR machinery, the process is slow and it, or the reagents required for it, are likely limiting testing throughput.

“The CRISPR-based assay unfortunately still requires this RNA extraction step, limiting its utility in the present pandemic.  A lateral flow device that detects viral antigen, not requiring RNA extraction (in the manner of kits already available for influenza virus), remains the likely game changer for rapid, point-of-care, virus detection.”


‘CRISPR–Cas12-based detection of SARS-CoV-2’ by James P. Broughton et al. was published in Nature Biotechnology on Thursday 16 April 2020.

DOI: 10.1038/s41587-020-0513-4


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

None received.

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