Corona Detective: a simple, scalable, and robust SARS-CoV-2 detection method based on reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification

J Biomol Tech. 2021 Sep;32(3):89-97. doi: 10.7171/jbt.21-3203-003.


Surveillance screening at scale to identify people infected by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) prior to extensive transmission is key to bringing an end to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, even though vaccinations have already begun. Here we describe Corona Detective, a sensitive and rapid molecular test to detect the virus, based on loop-mediated isothermal amplification, which could be applied anywhere at low cost. Critically, the method uses freeze-dried reagents, readily shipped without cold-chain dependence. The reaction detects the viral nucleocapsid gene through a sequence-specific quenched-fluorescence readout, which avoids false positives and also allows multiplex detection with an internal control cellular RNA. Corona Detective can be used in 8-tube strips to be read with a simple open-design fluorescence detector. Other methods to use and produce Corona Detective locally in a variety of formats are possible and already openly shared. Detection specificity is ensured through inclusion of positive and negative control reactions to run in parallel with the diagnostic reactions. A simple user protocol, including sample preparation, and a bioinformatics pipeline to ensure that viral variants will still be detectable with SARS-CoV-2 primer sets complete the method. Through rapid production and distribution of Corona Detective reactions, quite inexpensive at scale, daily or weekly surveillance testing of large populations, without waiting for symptoms to develop, is anticipated, in combination with vaccination campaigns, to finally control this pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; computational biology; fluorescence; molecular diagnostic techniques; open-source.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Diagnostic Techniques
  • Nucleic Acid Amplification Techniques
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Reverse Transcription
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • RNA, Viral

Supplementary concepts

  • LAMP assay