Scientists are using coffee to test for COVID-19

A team of researchers led by Vittorio Saggiomo of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands claims it has found a method to create a highly-sensitive test for the coronavirus from coffee machine capsules.

Currently, most coronavirus testing is performed using one of two methods: polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and lateral flow test (LFT). PCR tests convert genetic material to DNA then amplify it for easier detection. This method is very accurate, but the conversion and amplification procedures are time-consuming, which is why it can take days for PCR test results to return. FT tests use strips embedded with antibodies that bind to the virus and become visible in the presence of the virus. LFTs are quick and affordable but are prone to false results.

Saggiomo’s team claims this new method combines the sensitivity of PCR tests with the quick feedback and affordability of the LFTs. His new product, which he calls ‘CoronaEspresso,’ uses a method known as loop-mediated isothermal amplification (shortened to Lamp). Just like with PCR tests, Lamp converts and amplifies genetic material for more accurate readings, but is easy to read and can be done at home with a CoronaEspresso device and a pan of simmering water.

This isn’t the first time someone has thought to use coffee for coronavirus testing. There’s of course the rather informal ‘smell test,’ which involves sniffing a freshly-brewed cup of coffee. Since coronavirus infection is associated with a loss of taste and smell, if you can’t smell the scent of a strong cup of coffee, you may have coronavirus.E25Bio makes an “instant coffee” lateral flow assay antigen test, and there’s a similar project under way by 3M and MIT. These products should provide quick, sufficiently accurate results for basic home and community testing, but are far less accurate than PCR tests, which can take days to return results and can be extremely expensive.

Results from Saggiomo’s study show his method correctly identified three cases of COVID-19. According to the paper, CoronaEspresso devices could have huge ramifications for coronavirus testing and containment. They can be made for about €0.20, are mostly recyclable, and can be mass produced with existing fabrication equipment.

It’s important to note that this paper is currently available in preprint form on ChemRxiv, and thus has yet to undergo peer review. Hopefully, Saggiomo and his team can follow up this research with more comprehensive testing. There’s potential for this CoronaEspresso device to be modified to detect other illnesses, too. Considering their affordability and convenience, we may one day be able to test for coronavirus and other illnesses right from our own kitchens.

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