OmniSARS2: A Highly Sensitive and Specific RT-qPCR-Based COVID-19 Diagnostic Method Designed to Withstand SARS-CoV-2 Lineage Evolution

Biomedicines. 2021 Sep 26;9(10):1314. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines9101314.


Extensive transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during the COVID-19 pandemic allowed the generation of thousands of mutations within its genome. While several of these become rare, others largely increase in prevalence, potentially jeopardizing the sensitivity of PCR-based diagnostics. Taking advantage of SARS-CoV-2 genomic knowledge, we designed a one-step probe-based multiplex RT-qPCR (OmniSARS2) to simultaneously detect short fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 genome in ORF1ab, E gene and S gene. Comparative genomics of the most common SARS-CoV-2 lineages, other human betacoronavirus and alphacoronavirus, was the basis for this design, targeting both highly conserved regions across SARS-CoV-2 lineages and variable or absent in other Coronaviridae viruses. The highest analytical sensitivity of this method for SARS-CoV-2 detection was 94.2 copies/mL at 95% detection probability (~1 copy per total reaction volume) for the S gene assay, matching the most sensitive available methods. In vitro specificity tests, performed using reference strains, showed no cross-reactivity with other human coronavirus or common pathogens. The method was compared with commercially available methods and detected the virus in clinical samples encompassing different SARS-CoV-2 lineages, including B.1, B.1.1, B.1.177 or B.1.1.7 and rarer lineages. OmniSARS2 revealed a sensitive and specific viral detection method that is less likely to be affected by lineage evolution oligonucleotide-sample mismatch, of relevance to ensure the accuracy of COVID-19 molecular diagnostic methods.

Keywords: B.1.1.7; COVID-19; RT-qPCR; SARS-CoV-2.