CCMB calls for enhanced genome sequencing

With confirmation of the presence of the new variant of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 in two cases referred to it, the Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) on Tuesday called for expediting viral genome sequencing efforts and surveillance to asses the extent of its spread.

“There is a need to expedite the viral genome sequencing efforts to further check the prevalence of the new variant in India. We have used the traditional ‘Sanger’ sequencing method as well as the modern Next-Gen sequencing tools in testing for the presence here from samples collected among international travellers from United Kingdom,” said CCMB scientist Divya Tej Sowpati leading the coronavirus genome sequencing efforts at the institute here.

60% of all infections

The variant was first reported in the UK in September and makes up for 60% of all coronavirus infections there. By tracing and testing 33,000 passengers, who have flown in to India from the UK, India was able to confirm its presence here. CCMB is one of the 10 research institutes tracking and tracing the new variant in the country.

The scientist explained that the new variant showed 17 mutations in its genetic material and of these, eight affect its ‘Spike protein’, which expresses on its outer surface, and binds to the receptors in the host cells. One of the mutations is believed to enhance the binding between the virus and the receptors, thus, facilitating its entry into the host cells.

No setback to vaccine

The mutations have, however, not worsened the symptoms or the disease outcomes. They are also not an impediment to the vaccine development, and testing protocols also remains the same. The only problem is that the new variant spreads more easily than the others, he said.

“The measures to avoid infection still remain the same. Using masks when in presence of others, avoiding crowded places, maintaining physical distancing are the most effective and feasible ways for avoiding this virus, including the new variant,” reiterated CCMB Director Rakesh Mishra.

The director also said it is “very important to launch an extensive genome surveillance of the virus to assess the extent of the spread of the new virus. We should also keep an eye on other variants that might emerge independently, as India houses the second largest population infected by this virus, at present.”

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 1:28:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/ccmb-calls-for-enhanced-genome-sequencing/article33448467.ece

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