The mathematical strategy that could transform coronavirus testing


Scientists say that widespread testing is needed to get outbreaks of the new coronavirus under control. But in many regions, there’s a shortage of the chemicals needed to run tests. In several countries, health officials have started using a strategy that was first proposed in the Second World War: group testing. By testing samples from many people at once, this method can save time, chemical reagents and money, say researchers.

“In the current epidemic, there is a need to test an extremely large number of patients, making pooling an attractive option,” says Roy Kishony, a systems biologist at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

China, India, Germany and the United States are already using group testing.

There are many ways to conduct group testing, and scientists in several countries are experimenting with the best method for doing this during a pandemic. Their ideas largely come from a field of mathematics known as group testing, which has been widely used — from detecting faulty Christmas-tree lights to estimating the prevalence of HIV in a population. “There has been a flurry of innovation in this field,” says Dror Baron, an information scientist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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