Chevron Forward Description
Chevron Forward Engineering
Chevron Forward Implementation
Chevron Forward Contribution


Problems with current methods of detection

Current diagnostic methods, though highly advanced, are not without their inherent limitations. Antibody-based tests such as ELISA and Rapid Antigen Tests, designed even for high-profile cases like COVID-19, are plagued by a significant drawback - a propensity for producing false positives or false negatives. These tests rely on the immunogenicity of the pathogen, which can vary greatly between different microbes. Antibodies, as proteins, are exquisitely sensitive to factors like pH, temperature, and contaminants. Moreover, the production of antibodies involves substantial costs and consumes considerable time.

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Proportional of positive test by diagnostic modality by days since symptom onset

On the other hand, PCR techniques offer a faster and more accurate means of detection, but they demand a skilled professional, a resource that is often scarce in remote regions of developing countries. The multi-step nature of PCR-based detection also results in the extensive use of consumables and plasticware, limiting automation possibilities. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored this challenge, with developing nations like India facing testing constraints due to limited access to equipment and trained personnel for PCR-based testing.

The Pandemic

During the pandemic, India faced several challenges in its detection efforts:

  1. Initially, a conclusive and robust test was not available promptly to curb the initial spread of COVID-19 before it evolved into a nationwide pandemic.
  2. At the peak of the pandemic, there was a shortage of testing kits to meet the high demand for patient testing.
  3. As patient testing numbers dropped, laboratories encountered a dilemma. They couldn't utilize new kits until they had a sufficient number of samples due to batch testing. With fewer samples, the cost of the kits outweighed the revenue generated, leading to a delay in testing until a suitable sample count was achieved.
  4. The absence of reliable self-diagnostic kits failed to alleviate the burden on testing centers.

These issues collectively resulted in delays in delivering accurate results, which could have otherwise enabled better control of the pandemic's spread and reduced associated fatalities. Some limitations of RT-PCR are long-term nucleic acid extraction, requirement of trained staff, errors during sample preparation, and high cost for large volumes1. A few RT-PCR kits can also fail to differentiate between influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2. A faster development of more robust testing kits could have significantly improved the situation.

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Number of new tests and new positive cases reported during April 2020 till February 2021. The number of new cases did fall but the number of tests did not increase leading to a possibility of not testing infected populations

In our region and the country as a whole, the majority of the population, being low-income, is exposed to less-than-ideal sanitary conditions, contaminated food, and poor-quality potable water. According to WHO, 110 billion USD is lost yearly in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries like India. Our location being Punjab, an agricultural, dairy, and food industry hub, gives us first-hand exposure to these problems. Thus, we have chosen the bacteria E. coli and S. typhi and the fungus Penicillium all of which commonly contaminate food and water.

Diseases vs Detection

In our region, and indeed across the entire country, the majority of the population belongs to the low-income bracket and is exposed to suboptimal sanitary conditions, contaminated food, and low-quality drinking water. This predicament fosters the prevalence of diseases such as malaria, seasonal flu, and various other illnesses. While detection methods for these diseases exist, they are not readily accessible to the masses, contributing significantly to the high fatality rates. In 2017, the World Health Organization had estimated6 Ref6 that India only reports 8% of its malaria cases to the surveillance system. Today “even if we give a best case scenario, it will not be very different than 12%, 15%”, said Lahariya. “We need to remember that in two years of Covid-19, almost all other non-Covid services had suffered.”

Situated in Punjab, a hub for agriculture, dairy, and the food industry, we gain first hand exposure to issues related to plant and water-based diseases, exemplified by challenges like E. coli and Salmonella contamination.

Sustainable detection

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Number of samples and the average cost per testing unit in India from June 2020 to june 2021. There was a sharp hike in per unit cost around january 2021 which corresponded with the sharp fall in the number of samples sent for testing

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Proportion of costs associated with various components of testing

Antigen-antibody methods of detection also present sustainability challenges due to potential specificity issues, resulting in false-positive results and resource overuse. The production of antibodies, a crucial component, raises concerns about resource consumption and animal welfare. Moreover, these assays often depend on single-use disposable kits, contributing to plastic waste. The transportation and storage requirements further contribute to their carbon footprint. Complex manufacturing processes involving chemicals and energy-intensive techniques compound their environmental impact, with some components relying on non-renewable resources.

Breakdown of cost/device of paper based transaminase test in the indian market. The total costs per tests are calculated to be $ 0.0715.

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The breakdown cost/device is given for Fabric based chips developed by Achira labs (India). The total cost of a device is $0.22. The exploded pieces of the pie charts represent the fixed costs as compared to consumables.

Furthermore, the existence of various techniques for different types of detections increases the operational costs for laboratories and demands more lab space, consumables, and technical expertise to perform all necessary tests effectively.

Our Solution


Our DNAzyme is a single-stranded DNA molecule engineered with three recognition loops (RecLoops), resulting in a 'T' shaped secondary structure with loops at both ends. Within the DNAzyme structure, the upper arms conceal a hidden region due to strand overlap. When two specific complementary sequences bind to the RecLoop regions, this initiates a process called strand displacement, displacing the masking DNA strand and revealing the hidden region. It's within this hidden region that the enzymatic properties of the DNAzyme are encoded.

Additionally, our DNAzyme includes an extra loop that incorporates a deactivation sequence, offering precise control over the DNAzyme's activity. This unique feature empowers our platform with the capability for logical decision-making. Consequently, a positive signal is only generated when both specific sequences (recSeq) are present, allowing us to differentiate between strains containing two recSeqs and those with all three recSeqs.

Our DNAzyme is a single stranded DNA sequence that fold up into three consecutive stem-loop structures. (ask berleen to draw). The 3D modelling of the DNAzyme sequence revealed pyramidal structure

Fluoresence Substrate

The substrate is equipped with a fluorophore and a quencher, strategically positioned at opposite ends of a DNA sequence. Exposure of the hidden region within the DNAzyme enable hybridization with the substrate, leading to increased separation between the fluorophore and the quencher. This spatial alteration results in fluorescence, generating a distinct and detectable signal.


One to one correspondence, signal proportional to pathogen load in the sample, qualitative aspect


Self detection qualitative
Lab detection quantitative
Automation, where all it can be done
How to generate new kits for new diseases


  1. Coronavirus: a comparative analysis of detection technologies in the wake of emerging variants.
  2. Testing at scale during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Really good paper, lots of data)
  3. Performance and operational feasibility of antigen and antibody rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19 in symptomatic and asymptomatic patients in Cameroon: a clinical, prospective, diagnostic accuracy study
  4. The wire: COVID-19: Has Delhi Passed Its Peak Or Is Its Test Strategy Confusing The Picture?
  5. CEDA: Covid-19: Is India reporting fewer cases because of lower testing?
  6. WHO World Malaria Report 2017
  7. Why dengue and malaria continue to plague India – and how climate change is making them worse:
  8. Cost-analysis of real time RT-PCR test performed for COVID-19 diagnosis at India’s national reference laboratory during the early stages of pandemic mitigation
  10. Paper-based microfluidic point-of-care diagnostic devices: