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Quick Covid-19 test from IIT Kharagpur: How it works, why it matters

23rd October, 2020 Science and Technology

Context: A new diagnostic test for Covid-19 from IIT Kharagpur, called COVIRAP, can be a potential game-changer in bringing high-end molecular diagnostics from the lab to the field.

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has validated the efficacy of the method.

How it works?

  • It has an automated pre-programmable temperature control unit, a special detection unit on genomic analysis, and a customised smartphone app for results.
  • Three master mixes work as markers of different genes to confirm the presence of SARS-CoV-2.
  • Samples collected react with these mixes. When paper strips are dipped into these reaction products, coloured lines indicate the presence of the virus.


Why it’s special?

  • Current tests include RT-PCR, which are highly accurate but require advanced lab infrastructure, and antigen tests that can give results in minutes but have a lower accuracy.
  • COVIRAP process is completed within an hour.
  • The test is conducted in a ultra-low-cost portable unit that can be handled by unskilled operators outside the lab environment and is an alternative to high-end RTPCR machines.
  • It can test samples even on open fields.
  • The same unit can be used for a large number of tests on replacement of the paper cartridge after each test.
  • The patented machine unit is also very generic, which means that it can perform tests beyond Covid-19 — for influenza, malaria, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, TB etc, under the category of isothermal nucleic acid-based tests.


  • FELUDA, named after Satyajit Ray’s fictional detective as an acronym for FNCAS9 Editor-Limited Uniform Detection Assay, is a test developed by the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.
  • This too detects genes specific to SARS-CoV-2, but uses CRISPR-CAS technology.
  • With FELUDA, too, the need for technical expertise is minimal. While the current FELUDA prototype requires a PCR machine for processing, COVIRAP uses its own detection technology, patented by IIT-KGP.
  • “There are certain components of the method which are exclusive for us and different from CRISPRCAS,”

Why testing still matters?

  • India has tested 9.72 crore samples until October 20, and been meeting the WHO-suggested threshold of 140 tests per million population per day.