Genomic sequencing in India needs to be scaled up

Synopsis: There is a need for rapidly expanding genomic sequencing and sharing related data in a timely & transparent manner. This will help in understanding the impact of new variants on transmissibility, severity and vaccine effectiveness.

  • An effective COVID-19 pandemic response requires tracking of emerging variants, conducting studies about their transmissibility, immune escape and its potential to cause severe disease.
  • In this context, genomic sequencing becomes important. Genomic sequencing helps to track the emerging variants and use the evidence for timely actions.
  • Unfortunately, Genomic sequencing in India is not being paid much attention.
  • Despite, the establishment of SARS-CoV2 Genomic Consortia, or INSACOG the sequencing has remained very low.
    • INSACOG: It is a grouping of 10 National Laboratories involved in carrying out genomic sequencing and analysis of circulating COVID-19 viruses. It was established by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

What is Genome Sequencing?

Genome sequencing is a process of determining the complete DNA/RNA sequence of an organism’s genome. It has the potential to benefit mankind especially in healthcare, disease prevention etc.

Significance of Genome Sequencing

The data from genomic sequencing has both policy and operational implications.

  • First, the genome sequencing of SARS CoV-2 conducted by premier research institutes provides very useful insight into the behaviour and impact of Delta variant. For instance, consider the recent findings in India based on genome sequencing.
    • Recently, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – Institute of Genomics along with two other institutes, analysed nearly 3,600 genomic sequence samples from Delhi.
    • The genome sequencing of SARS CoV-2 led to the following findings,
      • The Delta variant had become the most circulating variant in Delhi and was found in nearly 60% of the samples analysed.
      • The Delta variant was found to be 50% more transmissible than the Alpha variant.
      • Also, the Delta variant was found to be associated with a high viral load and resulted in a higher proportion of breakthrough infection.
    • Based on their analysis, they were able to conclude that the Delta variant was responsible for the pandemic wave in Delhi.
  • Second, Genome sequencing was also helpful to find out the efficacy of the vaccine against different strains. For instance,
    • Based on the findings from genome sequencing in U.K, The Public Health England reported that the effectiveness of a single dose of vaccine was lower against the Delta strain.

Read Also :-What is genome sequencing?

What needs to be done for an effective COVID-19 pandemic response?
  • First, to scale up genomic sequencing in India, across all States, adequate samples should be collected for national-level analysis of collated genomic sequencing data on a regular basis and findings should be shared publicly.
  • Second, the Indian government needs to invest and support more scientific and operational research on vaccine effectiveness. The data should be analysed on various stratifies such as age, gender and comorbid conditions, etc.
  • Third, experts need to deliberate and find solutions to the issues posed by Covid-19 variants, such as immune escape and reduced vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant.

The only assured way to fight the pandemic is to use scientific evidence to decide policies, modify strategies and take corrective actions. In this regard, increasing genomic sequencing is not a choice but an absolute essential.

Source: The Hindu

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