CFANS scientists innovate to fight COVID-19: Abbas Research Lab

May 27, 2020

Like the many scientists, medical professionals and others across the University of Minnesota, the team at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) has been hard at work developing innovative approaches to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take a step into the Abbas Research Lab, and you’ll see the science of rapid detection in action. The lab, led by Abdennour Abbas, PhD, of CFANS’ Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, uses new, rapid diagnostic technologies to combat many challenges facing global food and health systems, including human and animal diseases. 

As Abbas explains, many industries currently rely on diagnostic practices developed more than 40 years ago, and these out-dated technologies are expensive, labor-intensive and time-consuming. His team, which works on creating technology that can do things like detect dangerous bacteria, such as staph, in minutes instead of days, and identify microbial tainted food before it hits the shelves, is now working on a rapid response diagnostic kit for COVID-19, along with partners in the U of M COVID-19 Diagnostic Laboratory and the U of M Medical School. 

“Rapid and reliable nucleic acid extraction from complex clinical samples is the first and most critical step for subsequent molecular diagnostics such as RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction),” said Abbas. RT-PCR is a laboratory technique primarily used to measure the amount of a specific RNA (ribonucleic acid, which is present in all living cells and in some viruses carries genetic information).

Abbas’s lab recently demonstrated proof of concept for a new way to extract, purify and concentrate nucleic acids from environmental and viral samples. His team’s ongoing research, recently funded by a University Rapid Response Grant and a Rapid Response Research Award from the National Science Foundation, is to apply the same technology for COVID-19 diagnostics. “The novel kit will be used to alleviate shortages in diagnostic kits and help with future needs,” said Abbas. 

Check our homepage for the next piece in this series where you'll learn about other ways CFANS has been making a difference during the pandemic.