Can the PocketPCR be used to test for corona virus?

The PocketPCR is a regular PCR thermo cycler and can be used to amplify (copy) segments of DNA. With the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) even smallest amounts of DNA (down to a single strand) can be detected. After the amplification the DNA can be visualized or sequenced. Visualization is usually done using gel electrophoresis, a technique used to separate DNA fragments based on their size and charge. The presence and quantity of DNA can also be determined using spectrophotometry in UV light or in visible light in combination with a dye.

The corona virus is an RNA virus, it has single-stranded RNA capsuled in a protein shell. To amplify RNA using a PCR reaction the RNA template must first be converted into a complementary DNA (cDNA) using a so called reverse transcriptase.

To prevent cross contamination and for reliable results the detection in corona virus is usually done using a quantitative PCR (qPCR). This is achieved by monitoring the amplification reaction using fluorescence in real-time during the PCR reaction.

So can the PocketPCR be used to test for corona virus at home? No. Why:

  • Handling Coronavirus (COVID-19) material requires a bio safety lab (BSL2)
  • Even trained people need some effort to go though this process and the sample preparation properly.
  • The PocketPCR has no quantitative or real-time fluorescence reading needed for reliable testing
  • Tests to diagnose diseases with clinical significance need official approval (testing and government approval). Any false test results can have severe consequences.

However by thinking about how to test for corona virus you can learn a lot about the amazing methods used in molecular biology. And the PocketPCR is an affordable way to start experimenting with DNA lab work at home. And what can be a better time to learn new things than now. So stay safe and happy pipetting.

Further reading: