In the Hot Zones

Stories of Success From the World’s COVID-19 Epicenters

Detecting COVID-19 in NYC

In early March 2020, New York had just surpassed their 100th case of COVID-19. As the numbers continued to rise exponentially, a team of researchers led by Associate Professor Christopher Mason at Weill Cornell Medicine went onto the New York Metro system and began swabbing surfaces. In an effort to move science forward and gain insight on the spread of the novel virus, this heroic team took to one of the most crowded and most heavily used areas of the city to see if they could detect COVID-19 on surfaces, using DNA/RNA Shield for their sample collection and transportation medium. As the city shut down, they were able to swab other heavily used areas of the city like doorknobs and ATM machines.


Through this study, the team hoped to understand the transmission dynamics of the virus in order to better inform city officials to establish policies that would keep the public safe. Additionally, as a more long-term goal, they were attempting to identify hotspots of infection within the city in order to predict which emergency rooms would see a spike upon lifting stay-at-home orders. The team also began to sequence the sewage in the city to pilot the idea of “sentinal sites” to track the virus.

One of the challenges of this project was that in addition to the samples collected in NYC, the team also had to process 25,000 other samples, as a part of a global network of metagenomics researchers. Due to this large volume of samples, Christopher Mason’s team required a very quick and effective workstation to process the samples and get results to the people who needed them most.

spanish article about DreamPrep
spanish article about DreamPrep

Associate Professor Christopher Mason collecting samples on a subway (2016)

By installing Tecan’s DreamPrep™ NAP workstation featuring Zymo Research's purification technologies, they were able to bypass the typical scripting and optimization process and jump straight to validation and sample processing. The system allowed them to quickly expedite their sample processing and get to results much faster than they would have on another platform. Additionally, they were able to get both DNA and RNA robustly from the same swabs, which is helping the MetaSUB study on the cities and sampling in the hospitals.

The initial results showed that there was no COVID-19 present on the subway, but the group has continued to monitor these urban environments as cities begin to reopen.

The Race to Scale Up Testing in Italy

Around the same time of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York, labs in Northern Italy were struggling to keep up with the rapidly increasing number of cases.

The country was one of the first to be hit hard by COVID-19, and as strict quarantine measures were put into place, city officials began authorizing more labs to process COVID-19 samples. One such lab authorized by the Lombardy Region for COVID-19 emergency, was PTP Science Park. Typically, a genomics facility in agrofood and human sector, this group needed to rapidly increase their throughput to process thousands of samples per week. With the situation so dire in Northern Italy, they needed to get systems in place as soon as a workstation was installed.

In response to an immediate need for COVID-19 testing in Lodi, Tecan's Italian service team installed the DreamPrep™ NAP at PTP Science Park. Using Zymo Research's Quick-DNA/RNA Viral MagBead Kit and the DreamPrep™ NAP, researchers were able to analyze 384 swabs a day for COVID-19 testing and worked diligently to double that capacity.

Utilizing the pre-programmed methods for DreamPrep™ NAP workstation, they were able to quickly begin processing samples and scale up their testing to meet the demands and quickly deliver test results. After this group tested the automated solution with Zymo Research’s Quick-DNA/RNA Viral MagBead Kits, and used them in their day-to-day operations, CEO Andrea Di Lemma declared, “that mentioned solution is satisfactory for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA extraction application and we are highly recommending implementing this solution in other facilities.”

spanish article about DreamPrep
An article from Italian media details the COVID-19 testing efforts of PTP Science Park
spanish article about DreamPrep
One of the laboratory technicians at work at the PTP Science Park (Ribolini)

Dr. Di Lemma’s suggestion indicates how effective this automated solution is in the current time period of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Tecan and Zymo Research have dedicated support teams in place to support COVID-19 testing efforts and research.



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*Please make a copy of these methods in order to customize them to accommodate and validate your workflows according to your desired intended use and laboratory protocols. Tecan & Zymo Research make no claims regarding the performance of the methods in this blog post.

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