Utilizing cost-effective portable equipment to enhance COVID-19 variant tracking both on-site and at a large scale.

Publication date: Feb 28, 2024

Despite optimistic predictions on the eventual end of COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019), caution is necessary regarding the emergence of new variants to sustain a positive outlook and effectively address any potential future outbreaks. However, ongoing efforts to track COVID-19 variants are concentrated in developed countries and unique social practices and remote habitats of indigenous peoples present additional challenges. By combining small-sized equipment that is easily accessible and inexpensive, we performed SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) whole genome sequencing and measured the sample-to-answer time and accuracy of this portable variant tracking tool. Our portable design determined the variant of SARS-CoV-2 in an infected individual within 9 hours and 15 minutes without external power or internet connection, surpassing the speed of previous portable tools. It took only 16 minutes to complete sequencing run, whole genome assembly, and lineage determination using a single standalone laptop. We then demonstrated the capability to produce 289 SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequences in a single portable sequencing run, representing a significant improvement over an existing throughput of 96 sequences per run. We verified the accuracy of portable sequencing by comparison with two other independent sequencing methods. We showed that our high-throughput data consistently represented the circulating variants in Los Angeles, United States, when compared with publicly available sequences. Our scheme is designed to be flexible, rapid, and accurate, making it a valuable tool for large-scale surveillance operations in low- and middle-income countries as well as targeted surveys for vulnerable populations in remote locations. IMPORTANCEThere have been significant efforts to track COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) variants, accumulating over 15 million SARS-CoV-2 sequences as of 2023. However, the distribution of global survey data is highly skewed, with nearly half of all countries having inadequate or low levels of genomic surveillance. In addition, indigenous peoples face more severe threats from COVID-19, due to their generally remote residence and unique social practices. Cost-effective portable sequencing tools have been used to investigate Ebola and Zika outbreaks. However, these tools have a sample-to-answer time of around 24 hours and require an internet connection for data transfer to an off-site cloud server. In our study, we rapidly determined COVID-19 variants using only small and inexpensive equipment, with a completion time of 9 hours and 15 minutes. Furthermore, we produced 289 near-full-length SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences from a single portable Nanopore sequencing run, representing a threefold increase in throughput compared with existing Nanopore sequencing methods.

Concepts Keywords
Coronavirus COVID variant
Inexpensive next-generation sequencing
Laptop portable sequencing


Type Source Name
disease VO effective
disease MESH COVID-19
disease IDO site
disease VO Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2
disease VO time

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