Armored RNA as virus surrogate in a real-time reverse transcriptase PCR assay proficiency panel
In recent years testing responsibilities for high-consequence pathogens have been expanded from national reference laboratories into networks of local and regional laboratories in order to support enhanced disease surveillance and to test for surge capacity. This movement of testing of select agents and high-con sequence pathogens beyond reference laboratories introduces a critical need for standardized, noninfectious surrogates of disease agents for use as training and proficiency test samples. In this study, reverse transcription-PCR assay RNA targets were developed and packaged as armored RNA for use as a noninfectious, quantifiable synthetic substitute for four high-consequence animal pathogens: classical swine fever virus; foot-and-mouth disease virus; vesicular stomatitis virus, New Jersey serogroup; and vesicular stomatitis virus, Indiana serogroup. Armored RNA spiked into oral swab fluid specimens mimicked virus-positive clinical material through all stages of the reverse transcription-PCR testing process, including RNA recovery by four different commercial extraction procedures, reverse transcription, PCR amplification, and real-time detection at target concentrations consistent with the dynamic ranges of the existing real-time PCR assays. The armored RNA concentrations spiked into the oral swab fluid specimens were stable under storage conditions selected to approximate the extremes of time and temperature expected for shipping and handling of proficiency panel samples, including 24 h at 37 degrees C and 2 weeks at temperatures ranging from ambient room temperature to -70 degrees C. The analytic test performance, including the reproducibility over the dynamic range of the assays, indicates that armored RNA can provide a noninfectious, quantifiable, and stable virus surrogate for specific assay training and proficiency test purposes.