A group of Canadian researchers is responding to a desperate need for COVID-19 diagnostic kits with their fluorescent imaging technology, known as Mango.
Molecular biologists Peter Unrau and Lena Dolgosheina from Simon Fraser University originally developed the Mango system as a means of visualizing the dynamics of RNA molecules within living cells. Within the cell’s cytoplasm, the primary function of RNA is to convert genetic information stored as DNA into proteins.
Their Mango imaging system can also be used to detect coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
In general, coronaviruses contain unusually large genomes in a single-stranded RNA format, consisting of around 30,000 RNA bases. Surrounding the viral particle is a spherical envelope that is studded with club-shaped spikes, which gives the virus its crown-like appearance, or “corona”.
The imaging platform has an RNA Mango aptamer component, that specifically targets and binds to a brightly glowing fluorescent dye. RNA molecules containing the Mango aptamer are illuminated by the dye, allowing scientists to observe them at high resolution using a fluorescence microscope.
The same technology can be applied to the development of testing kits of COVID-19, with Mango enabling the rapid detection of virus particles with higher sensitivities than many conventional methods.
“We are using the Mango system as a catalyst, to allow us to not only extend fundamental research questions but also to detect pathogens like the coronavirus, faster and more efficiently,” says Unrau, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry.
The team has published details of their imaging tool in Nature Communications.