New high-speed Covid-19 test can detect the virus in just five minutes

Researchers have developed an "elegant" new test that could tell you if you have coronavirus in just five minutes.

The diagnostic does not require expensive lab equipment, meaning it could potentially be rolled out for use in schools, workplaces and doctor's offices.

A team of American scientists led by Dr Jennifer Doudna, who won a share of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry this week, have come up with a way to detect the virus using CRISPR gene-editing technology.

The test is far faster than current diagnostics which can 24 hours or more to return a result, and experts say it looks promising.

"It looks like they have a really rock-solid test," says Max Wilson, a molecular biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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He added: "It's really quite elegant."

The new diagnostic works even more quickly than one developed in May, also using CRISPR technology, that was able to detect the virus in an hour.

CRISPR works by identifying a sequence of ribonucleic acid (RNA) unique to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and creating a complementary "guide" RNA that binds to it when placed in solution.

When the binding happens, fluorescent particles are released. Lasers are then shone on the sample and if it lights up, it indicates the virus is present.

Initial CRISPR tests required researchers to "amplify" RNA to increase their odds of spotting a signal, costing them precious money and time.

But now Dr Doudna's team claim to have created a diagnostic that works without amplifying RNA, instead of identifying multiple guides that work in tandem to increase the sensitivity of the test.

They have been able to detect as few as 100,000 viruses per microlitre of solution with a single guide RNA. A second guide RNA means they can detect as few as 100 viruses per microlitre.

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That's not as effective as expensive lab-based diagnostic machines which can track the virus down to one per microlitre.

However, virologist Melanie Ott, who helped lead the project, says the new test has one enormous advantage: speed.

It was able to accurately identify a batch of five positive clinical samples with perfect accuracy taking only five minutes per test, while the standard test can take a day or more to return results.

Not having to amplify the virus' genetic material also means scientists can precisely quantify just how much of the virus is contained in the sample.

This could allow doctors to tailor their treatment for individual patients depending on how much of the virus is in their body.

The research team is now working to validate the new test and are looking into making it commercially available.

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