To detect an acute infection with the corona virus, thousands of tests based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) are carried out every day. With the help of this molecular copying method, the genetic makeup of the virus, which consists of the biomolecule ribonucleic acid (RNA), is detected in the smears. The few virus RNA molecules are first rewritten into DNA and then reproduced by the PCR in numerous copying cycles. This is the only way to determine the existence of the virus genome in the samples. The experts speak of real-time RT-PCR. It takes four to five hours in the laboratory to get a test result.
Test result in 15 minutes
The Munich-based company GNA Biosolutions has developed a particularly fast corona virus test which, according to the company, is due to be launched in June at the latest. The test can provide a clear result within 15 minutes whether someone is infected with SARS-CoV-2, said the company boss Federico Bürsgens of Süddeutsche Zeitung. The enormous saving of time is made possible by the so-called laser PCR method, which is used in the repeated heating and cooling cycles. The entire reaction liquid is always heated here in the PCR method used up to now, although in fact only a few DNA molecules are to be heated.
Laser pulses heat up gold nanoparticles
GNA Biosolutions Research Director Joachim Stehr describes in one bioökonomie.de-Portrait of the highlight of the laser PCR process he helped to develop: “We keep the entire liquid at a constant temperature. With short laser pulses, we heat up gold nanoparticles on which the DNA sections to be duplicated hang, ”says Stehr. The short – only a few microseconds – heating of the nanoparticles works about a million times faster than the previous heating of the entire liquid. The entire process can be completed in 15 minutes, according to GNA Biosolutions.
Publicly funded technology development
The company is a spin-off from the Department of Photonics and Optoelectronics at Munich’s Ludwig Maximilians University. GNA Biosolutions was supported several times by the federal government in its company development. These include the Federal Ministry of Economics and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). As part of the funding measure “KMU-innovativ: Biotechnologie – BioChance”, the BMBF funded the development of laser PCR with around 300,000 euros.
Now GNA Biosolutions is working flat out on the production of mobile test devices that could be used at factory gates, for example, to quickly examine company employees. The Bundeswehr Institute for Microbiology and an automotive supplier from Middle Franconia are involved in the development. The project is funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs.