Saving Resources: SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostics by Real-Time RT-PCR Using Reduced Reaction Volumes

Since the beginning of 2020, the betacoronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is causing a global pandemic of an acute respiratory disease termed COVID-19. The diagnostics of the novel disease is primarily based on direct virus detection by RT-PCR; however, the availability of test kits may become a major bottleneck, when millions of tests are performed per week. To increase the flexibility of SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics, three real-time RT-PCR assays listed on the homepage of the World Health Organization were selected and investigated regarding their compatibility with three different RT-PCR kits. Furthermore, the reaction volume of the PCR chemistry was reduced up to half of the original protocol to make the individual reactions more cost- and resource-effective. When testing dilution series of culture-grown virus, nearly identical quantification cycle values (Cq) were obtained for all RT-PCR assay/chemistry combinations. Regarding the SARS-CoV-2 detection in clinical samples, agreeing results were obtained for all combinations for virus negative specimens and swabs containing high to medium viral genome loads. In cases of very low SARS-CoV-2 genome loads (Cq > 36), inconsistent results were observed, with some test runs scoring negative and some positive. However, no preference of a specific target within the viral genome (E, RdRp, or N) or of a certain chemistry was seen. In summary, a reduction of the reaction volume and the type of PCR chemistry did not influence the PCR sensitivity.

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