CSU researchers develop saliva-based COVID-19 test

Nicole Taylor

Amid the rising COVID-19 cases and need for testing, Colorado State University has created a new, more efficient coronavirus detection test.

Associate Director of the Prion Research Center Mark Zabel collaborated with other scientists to create a test that allows for more students to be tested — and faster.


The saliva test is known as the Multiplexed Primers and Pools ddPCR (MP4) testing algorithm, Zabel said.

It is currently being reviewed for Food and Drug Administration Emergency Use Authorization, according to Zabel. The test is conducted through individuals filling a tube to the two-milliliter mark with saliva, he said.

“I found that the lines went by faster with the saliva testing, and it was a lot easier for students to do.” -Shelby Toler, Colorado State University sophomore

Zabel explained the use of saliva over nasal swabs ensures a more consistent sample. 

The test detects SARS-CoV-2 by testing saliva that individuals collect themselves, meaning it requires less protective equipment and expertise, according to Zabel. The test also helps reduce waste produced by testing kits. 

The University hopes that the new tests will allow them to “scale up” testing numbers, according to CSU’s saliva screening test website

CSU administrators have made it the primary test and expanded the opportunity for students and staff to be tested, according to the website.

Zabel explained that including individual samples in multiple, unique pools allows for faster, more accurate identification of individual positive samples within pools.

“This is especially useful for college campuses, as students are being tested in groups in order to reduce spreading of COVID-19,” Zabel said. 

Though the University has been using the saliva test as the initial screening method for students, if an individual’s results indicate the virus may be present, a nasal swab test will be required. 

According to Zabel, the new MP4 test saves time, reagents, supplies and money.


Junior business major Nicholas Incandela explained that the saliva test was much easier to do than the nasal swab test. 

“It was completely painless, and I was able to do it myself,” Incandela said. “Although drooling into a tube was embarrassing around others, I realized we were all going through the same thing for the common good.”

Incandela said he got tested Oct. 19 and received results the morning of Oct. 22, making it much faster than a nasal swab.

The easy process and quick results allowed him to rule out the idea of having COVID-19 when he had a bad cold, Incandela explained.

CSU sophomore Shelby Toler said the University required the residents in her apartment to get tested twice this semester. She took the nasal swab test the first time and the saliva test the second time.

“I found that the lines went by faster with the saliva testing, and it was a lot easier for students to do,” she said.

In addition to free nasal swab tests, the saliva tests will be paid for by CSU, according to the COVID Information and Resources website

Nicole Taylor can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @nicoletaylor_32.