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University of Queensland develops cheap and quick COVID-19 test

Lab vile and cells

By Juliano Oliveira

The University of Queensland (UQ) has developed a new technology capable of providing diagnosis for COVID-19 in 40 minutes.

‘Dipstick’ technology, as the system was named, promises to be cheap and accurate, allowing mobile COVID-19 testing, including at airports and remote testing centres.

As a result, scientists will be able to extract genetic material in as little as 30 seconds, with a full molecular diagnosis in 40 minutes. The extraction can be done in most living organisms, including people, livestock, bacteria and viruses.

“That process is currently achieved using large and expensive commercial set-ups that require multistep procedures and specialised laboratory equipment,” Professor Jimmy Botella said.

“In contrast, our dipstick tech is incredibly cheap and can be used virtually anywhere, without the need for specialised equipment or a laboratory.

“Our tech enables the purification of DNA and RNA nucleic acids from patient samples – a critical step in COVID-19 diagnosis.

“Combined with a portable diagnostic machine we have developed – which fits in your hand and can be powered by a car’s cigarette lighter connection – we could enable faster identification and isolation of positive patients, helping to reduce the spread of the disease.

Professor Botella expects to expand COVID-19 diagnostic testing to non-laboratory environments such as airports, remote testing centres and GP clinics.

Dr Michael Mason, one of the developers, said the team had already applied the technology in other areas, primarily to fight plant pathogens.

“We have successfully used the dipsticks to identify diseases associated with fresh produce and important crops that are critical for feeding some of the world’s poorest people,” Dr Mason said.

“Even in remote locations, such as isolated plantations in Papua New Guinea, we have successfully used the technology to identify a pathogen killing coconut trees.”

“Really, this technology could be used to detect almost any disease, anywhere.”

The dipstick production is quick and cheap, enabling the bulk creation of it.

“Using a low-cost pasta maker, wax and filter paper, we are able to rapidly make hundreds of dipsticks, ready to be used, in only a few minutes,” Professor Botella said.

“The simplicity of the manufacturing process and the low-cost and accessibility of the required materials is a significant advantage of this technology.”

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