Microalgae as an Antigen Source for a Novel Tandem Point of Care Serological Assay for SARS-CoV-2

Sheikhzadeh, Mehdi | $75,000

Ontario Lambton College 2020 NSERC College COVID-19 Grant

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.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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