An engineered CRISPR-based method that finds RNA from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, promises to make testing for that and other diseases fast and easy.
Collaborators at Rice University and the University of Connecticut further engineered the RNA-editing CRISPR-Cas13 system to boost their power for detecting minute amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in biological samples without the time-consuming RNA extraction and amplification step necessary in gold-standard PCR testing.
The new platform was highly successful compared to PCR, finding 10 out of 11 positives and no false positives for the virus in tests on clinical samples directly from nasal swabs. The researchers showed their technique finds signs of SARS-CoV-2 in attomolar (10-18) concentrations.
The study led by chemical and biomolecular engineer Xue Sherry Gao at Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering and postdoctoral researchers Jie Yang of Rice and Yang Song of Connecticut appears in Nature Chemical Biology.
Cas13, like its better-known cousin Cas9, is part of the system by which bacteria naturally defend themselves against invading phages. Since its discovery, CRISPR-Cas9 has been adapted by scientists to edit living DNA genomes and shows great promise to treat and even cure diseases.
And it can be used in other ways. Cas13 on its own can be enhanced with guide RNA to find and snip target RNA sequences, but also to find “collateral,” in this case the presence of viruses like SARS-CoV-2.
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