Semi-quantitative group testing for efficient and accurate qPCR screening of pathogens with a wide range of loads

Ananthan Nambiar, Chao Pan, Vishal Rana, Mahdi Cheraghchi, João Ribeiro, Sergei Maslov, Olgica Milenkovic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Pathogenic infections pose a significant threat to global health, affecting millions of people every year and presenting substantial challenges to healthcare systems worldwide. Efficient and timely testing plays a critical role in disease control and transmission prevention. Group testing is a well-established method for reducing the number of tests needed to screen large populations when the disease prevalence is low. However, it does not fully utilize the quantitative information provided by qPCR methods, nor is it able to accommodate a wide range of pathogen loads. Results: To address these issues, we introduce a novel adaptive semi-quantitative group testing (SQGT) scheme to efficiently screen populations via two-stage qPCR testing. The SQGT method quantizes cycle threshold (Ct) values into multiple bins, leveraging the information from the first stage of screening to improve the detection sensitivity. Dynamic Ct threshold adjustments mitigate dilution effects and enhance test accuracy. Comparisons with traditional binary outcome GT methods show that SQGT reduces the number of tests by 24% on the only complete real-world qPCR group testing dataset from Israel, while maintaining a negligible false negative rate. Conclusion: In conclusion, our adaptive SQGT approach, utilizing qPCR data and dynamic threshold adjustments, offers a promising solution for efficient population screening. With a reduction in the number of tests and minimal false negatives, SQGT holds potential to enhance disease control and testing strategies on a global scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number195
JournalBMC bioinformatics
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 17 2024


  • Group testing
  • COVID-19
  • Viral load
  • Ct values
  • qPCR
  • Semiquantitative group testing
  • Pooled testing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Mathematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Computer Science Applications


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