How Solvay makes COVID tests work
Without our phosphorus reagent, PCR testing wouldn’t function
Did you know? Solvay is one of the very few companies in the world capable of manufacturing a key ingredient of all PCR tests used to detect the COVID-19 virus: a reagent molecule called RhodaPhos® Phos, demonstrating once again that chemistry is essential to make the world work.
What is a PCR test?
Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, is a process to rapidly make millions and millions of copies of a viral sequence. It combines (1) a reagent, (2) an optical "probe" which emits a fluorescent signal and (3) a fragment of the virus’ genetic code. This multiplication process magnifies the response to the test from a molecular scale so that it becomes detectable in the lab.
Why a phosphorus reagent?
The PCR test needs to be able to react to certain DNA segments of the virus. The reagent in the process is used to build an artificial short sequence of DNA called an oligonucleotide, which is the combination of specific nucleotides that can uniquely identify the COVID-19 virus. Our phosphorus reagent is one of three essential components of these nucleotides.
It may seem strange to use phosphorus to reproduce DNA, but in reality, phosphorus is a key element of life, present in our body in different types of molecules and used for various bodily functions. One of them is the "energy storage" brick, ATP (Adenosine TriPhosphate), which is present in our liver and in each and every cell of our bodies.
So why is Solvay one of the few companies in the world that’s able to achieve this? Well, for the PCR test to function properly, Solvay’s RhodaPhos® Phos Reagent needs to be incredibly pure so that its molecules can be multiplied millions of times without altering the result of the test. But as we well know, highly demanding applications are not the kind of thing Solvay shies away from.