Filipina leads development of COVID-19 testing technology in Switzerland

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 9)— A Filipina and alumna of the University of the Philippines Los Baños is leading the development of a mass testing technology for COVID-19 in Switzerland, the state university said.

Catharine Aquino-Fournier— who has a bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degrees in genetics — is the group leader of the application HiDRA-seq at the Functional Genomic Center Zurich, UPLB said in a news release Tuesday. FGCZ is a core facility of the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

In an interview with UPLB's campus-based internet radio program, Aquino-Fournier said the HiDRA-seq detects the coronavirus using Next Generation Sequencing, a technology that can determine the DNA sequence or fingerprint of a cell or an organism.

The state-of-the-art technology can analyze billions of DNA fragments in a span of hours, she added.

Aquino-Fournier noted that HiDRA-seq’s method is quite similar to the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT–PCR), except it skips the extraction process for the genetic material.

“The difference is that [while] in rRT-PCR, the output is a fluorescent intensity, in our test, the output is COVID-specific sequences. Since we have the sequences, we can determine the strain of the virus depending on the mutations that we find,” the native of Laguna's Los Baños town said.

“In the technology we developed, we are trying to skip the part of extracting the genetic material and get it straight from saliva, or gargles, or directly from the swab,” she added, noting that the system also has a built-in contact tracing function which can detect the source of the infection.

Aquino-Fournier, however, clarified that like other tests developed for the mysterious virus— the method is not expected to yield 100 percent accurate results.

As of publishing, Switzerland has reported over 30,000 cases of the viral disease.

Globally, COVID-19 has infected over 12 million individuals in 188 different countries. Deaths due to the disease have also surpassed 500,000.