Get the latest updates on the Coronavirus impact on engineers.Click Here
AI and Machine Learning

Bioscience company offers free coronavirus test kits to researchers

University of Michigan startup Arbor Biosciences is providing free kits to capture the genetic code of COVID-19 (coronavirus) to better understand how the disease became infectious and prevent future outbreaks.

By Kate McAlpine March 18, 2020
Rendering of COVID-19. Courtesy: Steve Alvey, University of Michigan

As doctors, scientists and governments try to get a grip on COVID-19, the University of Michigan startup Arbor Biosciences is providing free kits designed to capture the genetic code of virus samples. Variations in that code reveal how the virus has morphed over time. This help researchers explain how the virus changed from an animal disease to one that can be passed from one human to another.

The information could help shed light on how the genes of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, cause the symptoms of the disease COVID-19. In the long run, it could help reveal the factors that enabled the virus to become infectious in humans.

Making the kit free, allows research groups to test ideas within weeks rather than having to revise a locked-down budget or go through the slow process of applying for a grant.

Jean-Marie Rouillard, an assistant research scientist in chemical engineering at U-M and co-founder and director of technology at Arbor Biosciences, said, “In order to truly understand the evolutionary history of a virus like this one, researchers need to study similar or related viral genome sequences from many different contexts, such as wild animal populations. We anticipate that researchers will use our panel to reconstruct the genetic sequences of the virus SARS-CoV-2—formerly known as the 2019 novel coronavirus—from a variety of human and animal samples. Many examples of genome sequences are needed to track a disease’s historical spread.”

Alison Devault, director of genomics at Arbor Biosciences, said the purpose of the test is to prevent the next outbreak and is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure a specific patient.

“But it can be used to help determine which animal species are potential sources of COVID-19,” she said. “In addition to identifying which animals pose a risk now, this use helps the global research community understand when and why this novel pathogenic virus emerged. If we know the conditions that enabled SARS-CoV-2 to appear, we may be able to prevent a future virus from following the same pathway.”

Devault added the company has had from multiple different virology research groups that would like to use the kit, from North America, Europe and Asia.

– Edited by Chris Vavra, associate editor, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

ONLINE extra

Learn more about Arbor Biosciences’ research here.


Kate McAlpine
Author Bio: Kate McAlpine, senior writer & assistant news editor, University of Michigan