Indian scientists have started genome sequencing strains of the novel coronavirus isolated from patients in different parts of the country as they work against time to track its spread and look for signs of emerging mutations.
This is part of a large sequencing project led by the New Delhi-based National Centre for Disease Control with the help of scientists from two premier research laboratories, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, and the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), New Delhi.
The research teams will sequence the whole genome of the virus isolates and analyze if there any differences in genetic codes. This will be key to tracking the source of new positive cases.
“It is an RNA (ribonucleic acid) virus, whose genome consists of 30,000 base pairs (letters). Our focus is to identify which genetic variants in the virus are linked to its virulence and evolution. This could help us understand if the virus strain we have in India is unique or is similar to other global strains," said Rajesh Pandey, a member of the research team at IGIB.
The IGIB team is also working on a sample to sequence strategy, which could be scaled up as another diagnostic tool to test samples with the help of next-generation sequencing.
Generating at least 400 such sequences could help researchers extract valuable information on the behaviour of the deadly coronavirus in India, where there are more than 5,000 positive cases, said scientists.
This would also help guide the strategies for designing potential treatments for local populations, vaccines and drugs that might have to undergo changes if the virus evolves over time.
The current evidence shows the SARS-CoV2 has not shown any major mutation, which is a good sign as otherwise it could have significantly impacted vaccine development, the scientists added.