In order to monitor changes in the coronavirus that could make the pandemic worse or make vaccines less effective, scientists are increasingly recommending that the genome of new variants be sequenced in order to hunt down the virus.
“This is the first time we’ve seen how a pathogen evolves at this scale,” notes Ewan Harrison, director of strategy and transformation at COG-UK and a member of the Wellcome Sanger Institute, where much of the sequencing is done. performed. “We are learning that these mutations are accumulating much faster than we thought,” he adds.
Note that in mid-January, GISAID, a major data-sharing platform originally created to monitor influenza, had received 379,000 sequences, of which 166,000 came from Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK), a partnership between health authorities and universities.
Since then, tens of thousands of sequences have been uploaded to public databases, allowing mutations to be tracked with precision and speed never before achieved; the lion’s share of this information comes from one country: Great Britain, the same source continues.
Indeed, the publication of the first genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in January 2020, at the very beginning of the pandemic, made it possible to identify it as a new coronavirus and to start developing diagnostic tests and vaccines. Sequencing has identified variants of concern in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
According to the COG-UK director of strategy and transformation, the new, rapidly spreading variant in the UK is “like a mini-pandemic within the pandemic”. Without systematic monitoring, scientists might not yet have understood that it “is a game-changer.”
As a reminder, the Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday, January 15 called on the international community to extend the genome sequencing of the more contagious variants of the new coronavirus which raise fears of a resurgence of the pandemic.
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