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The government-affiliated Riken scientific institute and other research institutions have announced the development of a technology that detects the novel coronavirus within five minutes, the fastest in the world.

The system is believed to be almost as accurate as current polymerase chain reaction tests, which take at least an hour to produce results. The research was published in international science journal Communications Biology.

In the new method, test samples are put in a mixture of a special enzyme and a reagent. If the samples contain the coronavirus, specific molecules in a substance included in the reagent are cut off by the enzyme activated by the RNA of the virus and emit light, according to the research team.

As the amount of light emitted is minuscule, the mixture is placed in a microchip that contains 1 million micro test tubes per square centimeter so that each molecule can be isolated and the glowing molecules can be identified.

The new method does away with the need for purifying and amplifying the coronavirus RNA, a process required for PCR tests, making it possible to confirm the light emission in five minutes or less from when the samples are mixed with the enzyme-containing reagent.

It can also detect variants of the novel coronavirus although it cannot differentiate them from the original strain.

“We want to start clinical research in fiscal 2022 and release (the testing system) commercially,” Riken chief researcher Rikiya Watanabe said. “We hope it can be applied to detect other viruses and find cancer early.”

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