New Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), a part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), has decided to join hands with Tata Sons for the manufacture of a Rapid Test Kit for diagnosis of Covid-19. The IGIB announced this week that it had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Tatas to license its technology for manufacture of a Rapid Test for the dreaded disease.

The IGIB scientists have named their technology as ‘FELUDA’, a backronym for ‘FnCas9 Editor Linked Uniform Detection Assay’ as tribiute to the eponymous detective created by legendary director Satyajit Ray. Their findings were announced in late April 2020 in a 28-page research paper posted on BioArchive ( which is a platform for posting research work before they it is printed in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Dr Anurag Agrawal, Director, IGIB explained that the newly developed diagnostic kit is based upon CRISPR, which is among the most widely used tools for the editing and modification of genes for experimental purposes across the world. It uses a protein named Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein) to snip the genetic database at specific points throughout its chain of genes. This could be used either for modifying the genes and reconnecting them in an altered sequence or  for merely detecting their presence in a biological sample.

Thus the CRISPR platform can be utilized with ease for mapping the genetic structure of primitive, single-cell organisms such as bacteria, viruses, etc. as well as for that of more complex organisms such as flora and fauna. The genetic structure, also known as the “Genome” is the largest repository of biological information located within the cell of any organism. The basic unit of this library of information is the nucleotide, comprising DNA strands and a sequence of ‘sugar’ molecules.

Through a complex chain of biochemical reactions, the genes are able to determine which proteins are to be generated within a particular cell in the body and when they are to be switched off. Similar to DNA is another set of biological substances known as RNA, which carry out a wide variety of tasks within the cell. One type of RNA is the mRNA or messenger RNA, which carries instructions from DNA to the protein generating substances in the cell.

Coming back to FELUDA, it first amplifies the amount of genetic material present in the Corona Virus until the quantity is sufficient to enable detection. Then the CRISPR-associated protein attaches itself to the target protein, which is to be detected. Through a series of scientific procedures, the quantity of the target protein is estimated and calculated. In order to ensure specificity, the target protein is compared with similar proteins from cells drawn from known patients of Covid-19.

The benefits of this method are many. For one, results are obtained in a much shorter time (around 20 minutes) than would be the case with more traditional tests. FELUDA  also does not require any special or expensive equipment and can be used with minimal training. It is therefore eminently suitable for the current scenario, where the health authorities are already testing  around 85,000 samples per day and plan to increase the numbers even more.

Besides, since the FELUDA technology depends on studying the genetic material within the virus, it is superior to current Rapid Test Kits which are really attempting to detect anti-bodies to Covid-19. The latter are able to produce results at a later stage of the disease when the patient has developed a partial immunity to the infection. That is what the antibodies are supposed to represent.

Though the FELUDA test is most likely to be applied to Covid-19 in the current international scenario, it can also be altered suitably for the detection of other medical conditions as well. What is needed is a suitable target protein to which the Cas9 or its analogues can bind itself.


With inputs from Dr. Sumit Ghoshal, contributing editor at Business India.



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