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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Scientists call for public sharing of Covid-19 genome data

Nobel laureate and Scientific and Managing Director of Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens Emmanuelle Charpentier and another Nobel winner and Chief Scientific Officer of New England Biolab Sir Richard J Roberts are among the 544 signatories of the petition.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
Updated: February 5, 2021 10:40:12 pm
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Over 500 scientists have urged that SARS-CoV2 genome data should be shared more openly as this would help scientists analyse how viral variants are spreading around the world. The most popular data-sharing platform, Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID), now hosts more than 450,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes. But it doesn’t allow sequences to be reshared publicly, scientists have said in their open letter, released on January 29.

Researchers have called on their colleagues to post their genome data in one of a triad of databases that don’t place any restrictions on data redistribution such as the US GenBank, the European Bioinformatics Institutes European Nucleotide Archive and the DNA Data Bank of Japan which are collectively known as the International Nucleotide Sequence Database Collaboration.

Nobel laureate and Scientific and Managing Director of Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens Emmanuelle Charpentier and another Nobel winner and Chief Scientific Officer of New England Biolab Sir Richard J Roberts are among the 544 signatories of the petition.

Professor at Christian Medical College, Vellore, Dr Gagandeep Kang (who is not among the signatories) said in principle it is a good thing. “This is a call for open science and requires more data than is typically shared in GISAID. However, developing countries always worry about what happens if they share data, particularly if products become available based on their data and they are at the back of the queue,” Dr Kang told The Indian Express.

The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) is among the 10 research institutes that is a part of the Indian SARS-CoV2 Genomics Consortium conducting genomic surveillance to understand the virus’s spread. CCMB Director Dr Rakesh Mishra said GISAID was an established and comprehensive database of genetic sequences and there are certain quality checks here.

Dr Mishra said for the greater scientific good, there is no harm in sharing data. The philosophy of open science says that research communities should share socially useful knowledge. However, some on the condition of anonymity admitted that they were comfortable putting data on GISAID.

“From a scientific standpoint having access to others’ raw data allows you to understand the quality of that data and carry out analysis. There are three open databases and anyone can access this. There is no condition to reshare and reuse this data. In GISAID, acknowledgement is necessary. There is a need to acknowledge the lab which has generated data and that is important, especially for low and middle-income countries,” an expert said.

Meanwhile the open letter has suggested that there is a need to remove barriers that restrain effective data sharing and unleash fast flow of research advances into clinical use for the benefit of society.

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