A new COVID-19 test rapidly identifies and sequences the causative virus, helping to track new variants. The nanopore sequencing of isothermal rapid viral amplification for near real-time analysis (NIRVANA), can also simultaneously test for other viruses, such as influenza, responsible for similar symptoms.

As SARS-CoV-2 continues to mutate, health authorities are increasingly concerned about new variants being more dangerous, more transmissible and more difficult to treat or prevent by vaccine. Currently, a polymerase chain reaction test is required to detect the pathogen and then additional genetic sequencing The portable NIRVANA field test kit. Source: Mo Li/King Abdullah University of Science and TechnologyThe portable NIRVANA field test kit. Source: Mo Li/King Abdullah University of Science and Technologyis needed to identify the viral variant, which requires bulky and expensive lab equipment. This new technology aims to combine these results in just one test, which is small and portable.

The isothermal recombinase polymerase amplification (RPA) approach uses proteins to separate and copy DNA strands in as little as 20 minutes; PCR assays require temperature cycling to achieve the same thing. The technology also involves a technique called real-time nanopore sequencing, which allows researchers to sequence regions of the virus that are prone to mutation, helping them to track variants.

A small portable field test can analyze 96 samples at a time and should prove useful for rapid screening in airports or schools.

Researchers from the Salk Institute, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (Saudi Arabia), Universidad Católica San Antonio (Spain), King Fahad Hospital (Saudi Arabia), Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health, King Abdulaziz University (Saudi Arabia) and Taibah University (Saudi Arabia) contributed to the development of the NIRVANA system, which is described in the journal Med.

To contact the author of this article, email shimmelstein@globalspec.com