Simon Fraser University researchers will use their pioneering imaging technology – called Mango, for its bright color – to develop coronavirus testing kits. They’re among a small set of Canadian researchers who responded to the rapid funding opportunity announced by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to help address COVID-19.
Lena Dolgosheina, a post-doctoral fellow, and Peter Unrau, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, developed Mango to sensitively detect RNA molecules, helping to improve viral screening for viruses such as the coronavirus while enabling basic discoveries into the functioning of cells.
The latest research involves using Mango to detect individual molecules of RNA within a living cell. “We are made of molecules so when something goes wrong within a cell, it happens at the molecular level,” says Unrau. “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.”
The Mango system consists of an RNA Mango aptamer that binds tightly and specifically to a fluorescent dye. The aptamer acts like a magnet, targeting and binding those dye molecules. The dye becomes excitable when bound and glows brightly. RNA molecules modified to contain the aptamer “magnet” stand out from the other parts of the cell, which makes it much easier for researchers to see and study RNA molecules under a microscope.
RNA Mango dyes are currently available from Applied Biological Materials (ABM) in Richmond, B.C. The coronavirus research made possible by CIHR funding will allow the team to develop an isothermal testing methodology, known as Mango NABSA (nucleic acid sequence-based amplification).
The Mango NABSA kits can be used to test for the coronavirus, which is a positive strand RNA virus. ABM is actively involved with this project as a partner and will supply the enzymes and buffers needed, which the SFU team originally developed.