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Put to the Test

RT-PCR and Antibody Detection Diagnostic Tools for COVID-19


Melissa Kosinski-Collins
Department of Biology
Brandeis University
Lindsay Mehrmanesh
Department of Biology
Brandeis University
Jessie Cuomo
Department of Biology
Brandeis University
Kene N. Piasta
Department of Biology
Brandeis University


This directed case study follows the fictional story of an emergency room physician as he treats multiple patients being admitted to the hospital with symptoms of COVID-19. The case takes place in Boston and is based on the real-life Massachusetts outbreak of the disease after an international Biogen executive conference that resulted in the infection of over 99 patients both directly and through household contact. Students analyze the genomic structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the causative agent of COVID-19, and explore mechanisms for diagnosing the disease including RT-PCR and antibody detection. As a basis for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of potential tests, students learn the underlying techniques of qRT-PCR and the antibody-based ELISA assay. This multi-day case gives students an opportunity to think critically about the appropriateness of different diagnostic tools and how that may change over the course of a pandemic. The case is aimed at advanced undergraduates and first-year graduate students with a strong background in molecular biology who are capable of consulting primary literature, including journal articles and diagnostic protocols.


  • Analyze peer-reviewed journal articles and resources.
  • Examine the symptoms, diagnosis and transmission of COVID-19.
  • Analyze the genome, protein coding regions, and the structure of the viral proteins of SARS-CoV-2.
  • Develop strategies to study the evolutionary emergence and predict the mutation rate and future infectivity of SARS-CoV-2.
  • Compare the techniques, purpose, and shortcomings of RT-PCR and ELISA as diagnostic tools for COVID-19.
  • Evaluate the role and importance of RT-PCR and ELISA to the spread and transmission of COVID-19 and develop strategies for further containment.
  • Evaluate possible vaccine targets for SARS-CoV-2 and create a statement of grant support using scientific evidence.


COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; coronavirus; genome; RNA virus; RT-PCR; antibodies; serological assay; ELISA; PCR; Boston; Biogen

Topical Areas


Educational Level

Undergraduate upper division, Graduate


PDF, PowerPoint

Type / Methods

Directed, Journal Article



Subject Headings

Biochemistry  |   Biology (General)  |   Biotechnology  |   Cell Biology  |   Molecular Biology  |  

Date Posted


Teaching Notes

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Supplemental Materials

The optional PowerPoint presentation below includes figures from the case that the instructor may choose to project in class.

  covid19_diagnostic.pptx (~4.5 MB)

Answer Key

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