Synopsis- There is need for more genome sequencing from samples from all over the world in order to come up with effective approaches to control and prevent COVID-19 infections.
- A new variant of the pandemic SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is spreading rapidly in Britain and prompting high levels of concern.
- Six samples of the recent U.K. returnees have been found to be positive with a variant of SARS- CoV-2 virus.
- From 25 Nov-23 Dec, about 33,000 passengers landed at various Indian airports from the U.K. So far, only 114 have been found positive and samples have been sent to 10 INSACOG (Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium) labs for genome sequencing.
Thus, only through detailed epidemiological studies combined with genome sequencing data can we confirm the presence and spread of the variant in India.
What are the findings related to new stain of coronavirus and will it cause concern in India?
The genomic analysis undertaken by the COVID-19 Genomics U.K. Consortium found that-
- First. The new variant of coronavirus is named “VUI 202012/01” and is defined by a set of 23 changes or mutations. Among the 23 mutations, the two of which are particularly worrisome and specifically N501Y makes is more transmissible.
- It includes a genetic mutation in the “spike” protein that can lead to an easy and immediate spread of the virus, making it deadlier. This new variant has 17 mutations that affect the shape of the virus.
- Second, It is about 70% more transmissible- The variant has the potential to increase the number of people a person can infect by over 0.4
However, it might not be able to spread wildly in India as a sizeable percentage of people are already infected.
Read more – Mutation in Coronavirus
Why it is important to undertake more genome sequencing of the virus?
The genome sequencing study would determine if the COVID patients are carrying the existing strain of SARS-CoV-2 or the mutant strain.
- First, to understand the evolving nature of the virus–So far, we are doing very less frequent genomic sequencing compared to western nations. For instance, in England, around 10 percent of the infected virus samples are sequenced to study the nature of the virus.
- Second, to find an immune escape variant of the SARS-CoV-2, [which means a mutation in the virus that allows it to evade the immune system]
- One of the immune escape variants found in genomes from India, known as N440K variant — was found to be in 2.1 percent of the gene sequences in India.
- Third, The N501Y mutation can arise independently here in India. Hence more genome sequencing and genomic epidemiology is needed.
Steps were taken by the Indian Government regarding this-
- The genomic surveillance consortium (INSACOG) has been recommended for laboratory and epidemiological surveillance of circulating strains of the SARS-CoV-2 in India.
- Under this initiative, 5 percent of the positive cases will be tested for Whole Genome Sequencing, from all the States and UT.
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What is the way forward?
Genome sequencing is very much important of the higher percentage of the samples to understand the evolving nature of the virus.