Apr 12, 2021


The appearance around the world of variants of the COVID-19 virus – some of the more infectious and even more aggressive than the original type – has made health authorities and physicians around the world very nervous. 


Current tests for the British variant – which now constitutes the majority of the Coronavirus types in Israel and many other countries – and the South African Coronavirus variants are either expensive, time-consuming, or indirect. Due to their high infectivity and morbidity, it is crucial to quickly and effectively detect them. 


Now, researchers at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev in Beersheba have developed a direct, rapid cost-effective test that successfully identifies the British or South African variant. The tests cut the time needed to determine whether an infection is caused by a variant from days to hours.


Their findings were just published on the preprint digital archive MedRxiv under the title “RT-qPCR assay for detection of British (B.1.1.7) and South Africa (B.1.351) variants of SARS-CoV-2.” The archives’ preprints are preliminary reports of work that have not yet been certified by peer review.


The current standard for coronavirus variants testing is sequencing the entire virus genome, which is expensive and takes a lot of time. Dr. Karin Yaniv and Dr. Eden Ozer, under the supervision of Prof. Ariel Kushmaro, have developed two RT-qPCR rapid tests based on the gene deletion that differentiates the variants from the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.


The team tried their tests on sewage samples from Beersheba and successfully detected the British variant and not the South African one, which corresponded to the variants prevalent in Israel at the time. They said their novel system “will allow proper response and pandemic containment with regard to these variants. In addition, it may provide a basis for developing tools for the detection of additional variants of concern,” they wrote. 


“My lab has been working hard throughout this pandemic to provide early warning and detection tools,” noted Kushmaro. “Our detection system of corona in wastewater successfully completed a pilot program in 14 cities around Israel. We continue to refine our research in service to humankind.” 


Yaniv and Kushmaro are members of BGU’s environmental biotechnology lab and the Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering. Ozer is a member of the department of life sciences who was joined by researchers Noam Plotkin and Nikhil Suresh Bhandarkar.