India to sequence 1,000 genomes to understand Covid-19 virus

Updated on May 01, 2020 11:55 PM IST
The analysis of the data will also help the researchers understand how genetic variations in the human host relate to the severity and transmissibility of the infection and the susceptibility to it.
According to researchers, the methodology is already in place and the sequencing of the 1,000 genomes should take about two months.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
According to researchers, the methodology is already in place and the sequencing of the 1,000 genomes should take about two months.(Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

The Department of Biotechnology (DBT) has undertaken a project to sequence 1,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes from samples to understand the evolving behaviour of the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (Covid-19). The samples will be collected from across India to study the emerging mutations in the virus and how they change the symptoms of the infections disease that has killed at least 235,000 people across the world.

“The project started out as a consortium of DBT institutes, but now a couple of other nationally reputed institutes have also come forward. The objective is to have as much genomic data in one place as possible. We will not limit it to 1,000 but can do as many as possible. This data on the virus and its interaction in the Indian population will feed into other DBT and government programmes working to develop diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics,” said Dr Suchita Ninawe, senior scientist with DBT.

The analysis of the data will also help the researchers understand how genetic variations in the human host relate to the severity and transmissibility of the infection and the susceptibility to it.

“This is essentially a pan-Indian consortium on Covid-19 genomics. What we are trying to do is collect sequences from different regions of India. This will help us track the virus and how it has evolved across India. What we are trying to see is the differences in the viral RNA sequence of the virus circulating in different zones of India,” said Dr Saumitra Das, director, National Institute of Biomedical Genomics (NIBMG) in Kalyani, West Bengal.

The institute has already sequenced about five Sars-CoV-2 genomes.

The study will be coordinated by NIBMG along with the primary partners Centre for DNA Fingerprinting And Diagnostics – Hyderabad, Institute of Life Sciences – Bhubaneswar, National Centre for Cell Science – Pune, Institute For Stem Cell Science and Regenerative Medicine – Bengaluru. Other DBT laboratories will also contribute in sample collection and sequencing from across the country. The Indian Institute of Sciences is also likely to join the project.

Apart from the primary centres, 10 other DBT institutes will help in the project.

“Apart from that, we will also be able to correlate the sequence variation to the disease severity and the transmission efficiency of the virus. This will have to be validated in cell culture models to understand whether the mutations change the functions of the virus. Second thing is to understand how will the same virus impact people living in different zones, meaning what is the role of the genetic makeup of the human host,” said Dr Das.

According to researchers, the methodology is already in place and the sequencing of the 1,000 genomes should take about two months. “The major hurdle right now is the availability of these sequencing kits because of the global lockdowns. The sequencing of 1,000 genomes should take about two months, but it will take longer to analyse the data coming in from various laboratories across the country,” said Dr Das.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Anonna Dutt is a health reporter at Hindustan Times. She reports on Delhi government’s health policies, hospitals in Delhi, and health-related feature stories.

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