COVID-19 Genome Sequenced by Indian Researchers
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Early in March, India became the fifth country in the world to sequence the genome of the novel Coronavirus, or Covid-19, and share its data with the international community. Pune-based National Institute of Virology, an institution under the Indian Council of Medical Research, the country’s nodal health research body, sent the first two data sets to an open database shared by researchers globally.

In India, the first set of genome data -- detailing the complete DNA of the virus – by individuals in Kerala who had contracted the virus.

The SARS-CoV2 genome, as it is formally known, has about 30,000 base pairs, somewhat like a long string with 30,000 places, each one of these occupies one of four chemicals called nucleotides. This long string, with its unique combination of nucleotides, is what uniquely identifies the virus and is called its genomic sequence. To put that in context, a human genome, which is more complex, has 3 billion base pairs.

#Why coronavirus gene sequencing is important?

Genome data is essential to build tests, find drugs and vaccines. It is also needed to figure out if there has been a mutation of the virus and how that will affect different populations. It is also key to finding measures to deal with its spread. “The volume of the sample and the concentration of the virus play a crucial role during the sequencing of the virus genome. In some samples that we received, there was less virus concentration and in the case of clinical samples, sometimes the volume was less. These were some of the challenges,” says Professor Priya Abraham, Director of the National Institute of Virology.

“We need to know how the virus mutates, correlate sequence variation and its severity on patients,” says Professor S Vijaya of the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology at the Indian Institute of Science who has done extensive research on tuberculosis and the Japanese Encephalitis virus. “It is important to understand whether there are new variants, why is a cluster seeing more serious patients and some milder?” Vijaya says. “In Italy, the fatality rate is in 10% of the infected patients, in China, it was 2%. We need to isolate strains that have a sequence variation that is more pathogenic,” she adds.

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