Coronavirus | Genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 hit by shortage in samples from patients

File photo shows a 3D print of a spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 in front of a 3D print of a SARS-CoV-2 virus particle. Photo: NIH/NIAD-RML via AFP  

It has been three months since the formation of the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG). It is comprised of top 10 regional labs of CSIR, DBT and ICMR and is involved in genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2. However, they are yet to get sufficient number of samples from the COVID-19 positive patients from both government and private healthcare centres.

“In the last few months the funds have come by and necessary reagent purchases have been made and coordination among the labs too is improving. However, we are not getting the required number of samples. It is about 50-60 samples a day when we can do genome sequence up to 1,000 samples. Efforts are being made for samples to be received by the sequencing labs to attain the best possible outcome,” discloses CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB) Director Rakesh Mishra on Tuesday.

CCMB and Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) are among the 10 labs chosen by the Centre for genome sequencing of the COVID-19 samples. "We are supposed to get 5% of the new positive samples collected from various districts, mandals and even villages from across Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, parts of Karnataka and Goa. But, we have been receiving samples from limited geographical locations. Whereas, the supply from the remote places is non-existent. It is also because the government’s health machinery has once again been stretched to the limit due to the second wave," he points out.

States like Karnataka and Goa seem to have preferred sending their COVID-19 samples to the local labs. “Here, we need the Governments and local bodies help to secure more samples from those testing positive. We also need samples from private hospitals where people are getting admitted for effective and continuous monitoring," says Dr. Mishra.

The consortium had so far genome sequenced upto 14,000 samples across the country finding “large number of variants of which 2,000 variants fall into the 'concerned' category”. “The very nature of the virus is to mutate and check into nearby hosts - we have to continuously keep monitoring the variants to look for any potent strains which may make the available vaccines redundant or cause more rapid transmission. For that we need to enhance our sample collection and also sequencing numbers," he affirms.

The exercise is to ensure not a single obscure variant is missed by the scientists. And, if one such dangerous variant is sighted, the particular area can be quarantined to keep it under check. "We are currently studying the double mutation variant and results should be out soon. Genome sequencing of the COVID-19 samples will also establish whether the spike is due to superspreader events. It will also look for high mortality, morbidity trends and co-relate with the associated symptoms. Reinfections too can be effectively monitored through this process”, says the Director.

Other labs involved in genome sequencing are NIBMG Kalyani, ILS Bhubaneswar, ICMR-NIV Pune, NCCS Pune, InStem/NCBS Bengaluru, NIMHANS Bengaluru, CSIR-IGIB Delhi, and NCDC Delhi. Dr. Mishra had already stated that double mutation or 'B.1.617' is largely prevalent in Maharastra (upto 50%) and UK variant in Punjab (upto 50%). These are found to be 5%-10% prevalent in other places and it could mean the current spike is likely due to the commonly prevalent virus strains and due to lack of covid appropriate behaviour.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 5:09:31 AM |

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