Coronavirus | CSIR contributes to genome database

Published - May 07, 2020 11:03 pm IST

Amid concerns that the novel coronavirus (SARS-Cov-2) may have undergone a mutation and the new strain maybe even more contagious, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has submitted as many as 53 genome sequences of the novel coronavirus ( COVID-19 ) to a global genome database, a move that may help in better understanding the virus and developing a vaccine.

The country’s premier research and development organisation is also planning to submit the data of another 450 genome sequences of the virus by May 15, its Director-General Shekhar Mande said.

Finally, India shares two SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences

The CSIR’s Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, and the Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, are currently sequencing the genomes of the novel coronavirus, he said. Other CSIR institutes are also expected to join the process.

“We have so far submitted 53 genome sequences to the GISAID [Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data]. By May 15, we intend to submit an additional 450 genome sequences,” Mr. Mande said, adding that all 53 have been sequenced by the scientists at the IGIB.

Genome sequencing is the method of figuring out the order of DNA nucleotides. It helps in understanding how genes work together to direct the growth, development and maintenance of an organism.

IGIB Director Anurag Agarwal said in case of the coronavirus, sequencing will help understand the origins of the virus.

For instance, if a virus emerges from a particular cluster, sequencing will make it easier to identify its origin later when it is found in some other part of the country or world. It will also be helpful in making vaccines and drugs for it, he added.

Earlier this week, a study by a U.S.-based science laboratory has indicated that there is a new, highly-potent strain of the coronavirus that has spread globally. According to the study, this strain is more contagious than the virus in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Indian context, Mr. Mande said the sequences submitted to GISAID by CSIR deals with the coronavirus detected in Indians.

Launched in 2008, GISAID, a public-private partnership between the German government and a nonprofit organisation, promotes the rapid sharing of data from all influenza viruses and the coronavirus-causing COVID-19.

This includes genetic sequence and related clinical and epidemiological data associated with human viruses, and geographical as well as species-specific data linked to avian and other animal viruses. This enables researchers to understand how viruses evolve and spread during epidemics and pandemics.

According to GISAD, more than 16,000 genome sequences of the coronavirus have been shared with it by different institutes in the world that will enable rapid progress in understanding the new COVID-19 disease and in the research and development of medical countermeasures.

“Genomic resources obtained from this sequencing will also allow the identification of new targets for diagnosis and drugs for COVID-19,” the Director of IMTech, Sanjeev Khosla, had said when the process had begun.

Besides CSIR, the National Institute of Virology, Pune (under the Indian Council of Medical Research) and the Gujarat Biotechnology Research Centre, a State sponsored institute, have also submitted genome sequences of the coronavirus to the GISAID database. But the number of sequences submitted by CSIR is high.

CSIR, a body under the Ministry of Science and Technology, has 38 laboratories dealing with a range of subjects.

Globally, more than 38 lakh people have been infected and over 2.6 lakh people have died due to COVID-19, according to the World Health Organisation database.

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