Mo Li’s lab is developing an ultra-sensitive and accurate method that is capable of being deployed in the field for rapid sequencing-based detection of SARS-CoV2. Multiple regions of the viral genome that harbor frequent mutations will be captured by molecular biology techniques and then sequenced on a pocket-sized sequencer called Oxford Nanopore minION. Thousands of samples can be sequenced in parallel in a matter of hours, with the data being analyzed using a bioinformatic pipeline developed in Li’s lab to detect the virus and report its sequences. The whole workflow can be carried out with equipment that fits inside a briefcase.
Currently, clinical samples must be shipped to centralized laboratories for COVID-19 testing. This leads to longer turnaround time, limited access for rural areas and potential loss of samples integrity during shipping. This new method—once validated with clinical samples—could realize rapid and point-of-care diagnosis and significantly increase viral mutation data to facilitate epidemiological studies of COVID-19 and track the possible emergence of more virulent strains.