December 3, 2020


Aim for Excellence

No, Elon Musk Is Not About to Blow This COVID-19 Testing Thing Wide Open

On Friday 13th November, Elon Musk took four speedy antigen checks for COVID-19. When the success...

On Friday 13th November, Elon Musk took four speedy antigen checks for COVID-19. When the success came back again two had been negative and two have been positive. Musk was alarmed. He took to Twitter complaining “One thing extremely bogus is heading on.”


What’s bogus is that ‘Space Karen’ failed to study up on the check just before tweeting to his millions of followers. Here’s why his success make best feeling.

In August, when the Fda permitted the 1st COVID-19 quick antigen check, they made the comparison to at-property being pregnant exams. They’re low-cost, never will need a lab, and give success in minutes.

They’re also only precise in the course of a specified window of time. Fast antigen tests work by detecting a protein uncovered on the area of the virus. The bigger the selection of virus particles in your body, the far more most likely you are to detect it.

The number of virus particles peaks as indications appear. In the times, even several hours, possibly side of peak viral load, the chance of a bogus negative raises.

COVID-19 is most contagious two times before symptoms arise. Consequently, a rapid antigen test may well well return a wrong unfavorable when an infected man or woman most wants to isolate.


The White House’s over-reliance on speedy antigen testing might have contributed to their super-spreader activities. Elon Musk’s two false negatives are in line with the recognised limitations of speedy antigen screening.

Just after elevating suspicions about immediate antigen screening, Musk moved on to PCR testing. “Is it possible to generate a phony beneficial if you only operate enough cycles?” he questioned.

The reply is no. 

PCR, or polymerase chain response, is a lab system for replicating a distinct piece of DNA.

We mix our organic sample with all the ingredients expected to replicate DNA. Then we include DNA primers targeting our sequence of fascination.

In contrast to rapid antigen tests, PCR screening has some downsides. It’s high-priced, demands a lab to carry out, and the experiment by itself usually takes hrs. Even so, it’s correct in excess of a a lot more time time period of time.

PCR relies on the DNA of interest getting current in the sample in the first put. False positives consequence from contamination. Which is why we incorporate a unfavorable command.


Rather of adding your nose swab DNA sample to the adverse management, you incorporate pure, distilled drinking water. If you see a good result in the adverse manage, you know you contaminated your sample.

But what about the ‘cycles’ Musk refers to? At place temperature, the DNA replication would take a incredibly, incredibly prolonged time. We heat the response to velocity it up, then reduce the temperature to 4°C to quit it. Which is 1 thermal cycle.

Based on the design and style of the experiment we may well conduct 30 – 40 thermal cycles. But, the total variety of PCR cycles doesn’t figure out the outcome. We measure the volume of target DNA at a predetermined number of cycles.

That cycle threshold is constant for all PCR experiments conducted by the lab that target this piece of DNA. @c0nc0rdance delivers the ideal clarification of this I’ve observed:

“Number of cycles” would not issue. In which you established the threshold does. Stating “we’re running way too many cycles” is like saying “we’re recording much too significantly security online video after the crime was fully commited”. It does not make any difference.

There is a 3rd style of COVID-19 check: antibody testing.

Rather of detecting the virus itself, antibody tests seems to be for evidence of an immune response to the virus. When your immune procedure satisfies a new virus or micro organism it mounts an assault to demolish it.


At the same time, section of your immune technique makes antibodies that recognise the virus or micro organism. They’re the immunological equal of a preferred poster.

Antibody screening appears for antibodies precise to COVID-19. If we can detect individuals antibodies, the COVID-19 virus must have infected the particular person in question.

Antibodies continue being in your blood for a very long time after an infection. This usually means antibody testing is a reliable detection. On the other hand, it takes time for your immune method to crank out antibodies to a new menace. So, antibody tests is ineffective in the first days of an infection.

The 3 varieties of COVID-19 examination accessible — PCR, antibody, and rapid antigen — each have their limitations. They talk to the issue “Is there proof of COVID-19 in this sample?” in various means. It really is significant we realize those constraints and differences when deciphering success.

Emma Bell is a bioinformatician at the Princess Margaret Most cancers Centre, Toronto, Canada. They use computer system programming, figures, and device studying to greater fully grasp most cancers biology.

This short article was initially posted by Emma Bell Ph.D. on Medium. Study the original posting right here.


Rubin, R. JAMA. (2020) The Issues of Expanding Rapid Checks to Curb COVID-19

Guglielmi, G. Nature (2020) Fast coronavirus checks: what they can and are not able to do.

Centers for Sickness Regulate and Prevention (2020) Test for past an infection