An built-in molecular diagnostic strategy for detecting SARS-CoV-2 variants
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In a current examine printed in PLOS ONE, researchers developed an built-in strategy combining next-generation sequencing (NGS), molecular barcoding, machine studying, and bioinformatics to allow high-throughput detection of extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants.

Study: High throughput SARS-CoV-2 variant evaluation utilizing molecular barcodes coupled with subsequent era sequencing. Image Credit: Imilian/Shutterstock


SARS-CoV-2 amino acid substitutions (mutations) give rise to completely different variants with elevated virulence and/or resistance to coronavirus illness 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines. Reverse transcription-polymerase chain response (RT-PCR) has been the gold commonplace for molecular detection; nevertheless, the strategy doesn’t allow the identification of sequence variations in particular genomic places.

Identifying SARS-CoV-2 infections and single nucleotide variants (SNVs) requires modification of the present diagnostic methods for mapping SARS-CoV-2 mutations in a fast, dependable, real-time, and cost-effective method. NGS permits variant evaluation and lineage monitoring; nevertheless, it has not but been thought of a normal methodology for mass screening. The integration of PCR and NGS provides a number of advantages reminiscent of large-scale testing, much less price, decrease amount of reagents required, and the readout of SARS-CoV-2 sequence variations.

About the examine

In the current examine, researchers detected SARS-CoV-2 variants utilizing a protocol based mostly on integrating multiplexed PCR, deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)-barcoding, pattern pooling, NGS, machine studying, and bioinformatics evaluation at a single nucleotide decision. While PCR permits SARS-CoV-2 detection, NGS permits detection of sequence variations, machine studying improves the sensitivity and specificity of the method, and bioinformatics permits information evaluation.

Oropharyngeal and nasopharyngeal swabs had been obtained from the sufferers (n = 960 specimens), from which RNA was extracted and subjected to RT-PCR evaluation, and amplified complementary DNA (cDNA) of SARS-CoV-2 with >1 SNV within the sequence reads had been generated. Subsequently, DNA -barcoding, pattern pooling, library preparation, NGS-based amplicon sequencing, and machine studying analyses had been carried out.

The methodology enabled individually barcoded samples to be pooled collectively in a single effectively and amplification of a number of fragments in parallel for processing hundreds of samples concurrently. A complete of 2133 band 21,000 barcodes with 10 nitrogenous bases and 12 nitrogenous bases, respectively, had been generated; nevertheless, solely 96 distinct barcodes had been chosen for the evaluation, and the viral reads had been counted for each barcode.

For barcoding, patient-specific barcodes had been generated >3 sequence-Levenshtein distance aside and added to DNA primers. The primer targets for the evaluation had been the SARS-CoV-2 nucleocapsid 1 (N1), N2, envelope (E), and open studying body 1 (ORF1) genes. In addition, the human endogenous ribonuclease P (RNaseP) gene was used as an inside management.

In the evaluation, 10 genetic libraries had been ready and sequenced to determine SARS-CoV-2 and its variants within the samples, together with sequence variations. The sequences had been learn utilizing the Illumina NGS system to determine SARS-CoV-2-positive samples and their sequence variations.


Three viral fragments had been sequenced for SARS-CoV-2 detection, and 7 single nucleotide SARS-CoV-2 variants had been detected after NGS-based sequencing. The noticed mutations had been in comparison with SARS-CoV-2 databases utilizing the nucleotide fundamental native alignment search instrument (BLASTn) GenBank, following which six identified SARS-CoV-2 variants and one novel variant had been recognized on screening 960 samples, of which 27% (n=258) had been SARS-CoV-2 constructive.

Of 258 SARS-CoV-2-positive specimens, 30 contained a standard N-gene missense mutation, whereas six specimens additionally contained a substitution in ORF1a. The variety of viral reads within the pattern pool negatively correlated with the cycle threshold (Ct) numbers of the PCR evaluation.

The protocol demonstrated 93.3% accuracy, 91.7% precision, 82.5% sensitivity, and 97.3% specificity, and on contemplating constructive samples as these with Ct<30 (for the N-gene), the sensitivity and specificity elevated to 100% and 98.5%, respectively, with 94.7% constructive predictive worth (PPV). The findings indicated that the diagnostic protocol might precisely detect SARS-CoV-2 and its variants.

However, multiplexing the N1 gene and the N2 gene collectively led to the era of a non-specific 944 base pair (bp) DNA fragment because the two corresponding amplicons had been located shut to one another. The shaped 944bp-long fragment was an elongated product comprising the ahead primer and reverse primer of the N1 gene and the N2, respectively. Since the fragment was added throughout the preparation of the genetic libraries library and ran concurrently with all amplicons, it might give rise to a aggressive NGS evaluation and a lesser variety of reads from DNA fragments beneath evaluation.

Overall, the examine findings confirmed that integrating multiplexed PCR assays, DNA barcoding, pattern pooling, NGS, machine studying, and bioinformatics could possibly be an efficient diagnostic resolution for high-throughput and correct mass screening for SARS-CoV-2 variant and sequence variation detection.

Journal reference:

  • Cohen-Aharonov, L. et al. (2022) “High throughput SARS-CoV-2 variant analysis using molecular barcodes coupled with next generation sequencing”, PLOS ONE, 17(6), p. e0253404. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0253404.

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