UC Berkeley researchers develop COVID-19 detection for large samples

Infographic depicting the DIVER detection process for SARS-CoV-2
Joseph Casey/Senior Staff

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UC Berkeley researchers have created a method to detect and quantify COVID-19 in a large sample.

Their study, published in Analytical Chemistry on May 18, introduces the method of detecting an intact virus by exogenous-nucleotide reaction, or DIVER. This quantifies the amount of virus in a pool without being affected drastically by dilution.

The method works because of the nature of COVID-19, a virus which has an “envelope” membrane, according to study author and campus postdoctoral fellow Molly Kozminsky. This allows the researchers to tag the virus with a short-stranded DNA oligonucleotide distinct from the body and virus that act as a signal, according to study author and campus mechanical engineering professor Lydia Sohn.

The researchers then “amplify” the tags to make it easier for detection, Sohn added.

“Tagging the virus with the DNA (oligonucleotides) and then detecting the tags vs. anything in the virus is our new method,” Sohn said in an email.

The DIVER method has multiple steps that are similar to a method of detecting extracellular vesicles in cancer cells and isolating these specific vesicles, according to Kozminsky.

Following current experiments of the detection of certain tags in the lentivirus, this DIVER method was able to successfully detect positive samples in pooling experiments, according to the research. The study states that DIVER is in the position for efficient sample pooling and clinical validation.

However, Sohn noted that more steps remain to test the accuracy of DIVER, and more experiments will need to be conducted.

“The method is still early in development,” Kozminsky said. “To test we would have to try with human samples and to determine that, it would be a future project.”

DIVER could affect future COVID-19 testing by pooling a large number of samples together to detect the virus, Sohn noted.

The DIVER method can also be used for other viruses with an “enveloped” membrane, according to Sohn.

“If we were able to scale it up, the goal would be to perform large-scale testing with minimal resources,” Kozminsky said.

Kozminsky noted that she was excited that the research team was able to get its article out to the public.

The team is willing to work with other groups who see an application to its work, Kozminksy said.

“We’ve now gone back to focus on cancer with our method; however, we would love to team with anyone who would like to use our method in pooled samples,” Sohn said in an email.

Contact Luis Saldana at [email protected].