Disclaimer: No clinical weight will or should be placed on these protocols and their test results. Only public health certified labs should be relied upon. No testing of anyone else’s samples apart from your own should be done (for multiple reasons, ethical, practical and legal).
If Corona Virus was as fatal as SARS but as contagious as the flu we would have a major problem. Thankfully it is not*. Conservative guesses at the moment are probably pointless as we don’t have enough information. However it’s looking like it will infect hundreds of millions. At 1%** fatality rate that’s a lot of “avoidable” deaths and suffering.
To break the cycle, as with all public health initiatives, early detection is not necessary but it is incredibly powerful. Because the flu has similar symptoms (albeit probably more runny noses) then it’s difficult for some one infected to tell them apart. And if they are symptomless then it will be impossible for them to tell.
We will need to move to a society where in situations like this, everyone has ready access to a test, and preferably one performed once or more per day. You could imagine waking up and putting a nasal and saliva sample in a tube. Then having breakfast, getting ready for work, and before you leave the front door you get the all clear or you know you are infectious and can call in sick / work from home.
If we had such a system in place now we’d send the genetic code over the wire, your device would synthesis you the correct primers, and run the diagnostic. The system would need a supply of cartridges containing freeze dried reagents, preferably in single pot reactions.
Where can DIT (Do It Together) DIY Biology help out?
Well beyond being a source of explanation of the science, we can also help validate existing protocols. A couple of such efforts are underway coordinated through the JOGL slack group: https://jogl-covid-19.slack.com
These include recreating a paper comparing the effectiveness of different DNA primers for RT-PCR in Korea (see the #repro-jung2020feb-primer-comparison channel or this google doc). And recreating the Mammoth CRISPR based detection system (see the #repro-mammoth-crispr channel or this google doc)
Current progress on the first initiative: reagents identified, partial protocol complete. Will update here with progress.
* Though perhaps it could mutate a strain that becomes more lethal and as infectious.
** This might get lower over time as we don’t know about some people with mild symptoms https://youtu.be/2U1YoKujYeY?t=462