Microalgae as an Antigen Source for a Novel Tandem Point of Care Serological Assay for SARS-CoV-2
The COVID‑19 pandemic is unlike anything the world has seen in over a century, both in terms of global
spread and economic impact. Caused by the infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus, the number of COVID‑19
infections and deaths continue to rise. In order to move past “stay at home” orders, testing on a massive scale is
required to be able to properly track the virus. Additionally, evidence has suggested that the virus spreads
through asymptomatic persons as well, which increased testing will be helpful in the large-scale tracking of
At the current time, we do not have the ability for population-wide testing due to a limited reagent supply.
Serological testing can be used to identify people who have been infected and become immune by detecting
antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. The current method to produce the spike protein uses insect
or mammalian cells, which are expensive and difficult to scale.
This project proposes to produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein using the microalgae Phaeodactylum
tricornutum. P. tricornutum is an excellent expression system because it can appropriately glycosylate
exogenous proteins, it is inexpensive, it has minimal biocontainment requirements, and it is amenable to rapid
scaling for the large-scale production needed to combat SARS-CoV-2. In addition to the current pandemic, this
method could be rapidly adapted if the spike protein mutates and could be used for future outbreaks of other
This project will be a joint collaboration between the University of Western Ontario, Lambton College and
Suncor Energy. The goal of the project is to facilitate a rapid test to identify people that have been exposed and
become immune to the latest virus called SARS-CoV-2. Most individuals affected do not display symptoms
and can spread COVID‑19 without even knowing it. Furthermore, identifying people who have been exposed
would allow healthcare and government officials better information on the spread and effect of the virus.