Dan Brogan (left) and Calvin Lin study the protein structure of Cas13d. (Credit: Michelle Fredricks, UC San Diego Physical Sciences)

Blending experts from molecular genetics, chemistry and health sciences, researchers have created a rapid diagnostic technology that detects SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The new SENSR (sensitive enzymatic nucleic acid sequence reporter) is based on CRISPR gene-editing technology that allows speedy detection of pathogens by identifying genetic sequences in their DNA or RNA. SENSR is the first SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic to leverage the Cas13d enzyme (specifically a ribonuclease effector called “CasRx”).

Early tests in SENSR’s development demonstrated SARS-CoV-2 detection in less than an hour. The researchers note in the paper that further development is needed, but the technology has the potential to become a “powerful molecular diagnostic with numerous applications.”

Eventually, the team envisions SENSR becoming important in locations such as airports so that passengers can quickly determine whether they might be carrying a virus.