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Respiratory viral infections are a major global clinical problem, and rapid, cheap, scalable and agnostic diagnostic tests that capture genome-level information on viral variation are urgently needed. Metagenomic approaches would be ideal, but remain currently limited in that much of the genetic content in respiratory samples is human, and amplifying and sequencing the viral/pathogen component in an unbiased manner is challenging. PCR-based tests, including those which detect multiple pathogens, are already widely used, but do not capture information on strain-level variation; tests with larger viral repertoires are also expensive on a per-test basis. One intermediate approach is the use of large panels of viral probes or 'baits', which target or 'capture' sequences representing complete genomes amongst several different common viral pathogens; these are then amplified, sequenced and analysed with a sequence analysis workflow. Here we evaluate one such commercial bait capture method (the Twist Bioscience Respiratory Virus Research Panel) and sequence analysis workflow (OneCodex), using control (simulated) and patient samples head-to-head with a validated multiplex PCR clinical diagnostic test (BioFire FilmArray). We highlight the limited sensitivity and specificity of the joint Twist Bioscience/OneCodex approach, which are further reduced by shortening workflow times and increasing sample throughput to reduce per-sample costs. These issues with performance may be driven by aspects of both the laboratory (e.g. capacity to enrich for viruses present in low numbers), bioinformatics methods used (e.g. a limited viral reference database) and thresholds adopted for calling a virus as present or absent. As a result, this workflow would require further optimization prior to any implementation for respiratory virus characterization in a routine diagnostic healthcare setting.

Original publication




Journal article


Microb Genom

Publication Date





SARS-CoV-2, bait capture, diagnostics, influenza, rhinovirus, sequencing, target enrichment, Humans, Workflow, Hybridization, Genetic, Nucleic Acid Hybridization, Computational Biology, Multiplex Polymerase Chain Reaction