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Thursday, June 04, 2020

Genome sequencing points at Indian COVID-19 strain being similar to Chinese

The coronavirus is primarily made of three important elements — spike proteins that help the virus bind to a living cell, ribonucleic acid (RNA) strands that start replicating inside a living cell and fatty envelop that holds all the components together.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi | Published: April 8, 2020 10:11:30 pm
In the current scenario, private labs were allowed to charge Rs 4,500 from people to test for coronavirus. (File)

The Indian strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or Covid-19, is likely no different from strains that have been found in other countries. While
a lot more genome sequencing of the coronavirus will need to be carried out before scientists at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular
Biology (CCMB) Hyderabad, can categorically come to this conclusion, the six genome sequences that the scientists at the institute have
isolated so far are pointing to the Indian strain of the virus being similar to the virus in other geographical locations such as China or Italy.

“We started genome sequencing of the virus a week ago. NIV Pune has isolated two genomes sequences and has published their findings. We have reasonably isolated six. We had tested 700 samples out of which 15 genomes were sequenced and six of these has given us reasonable data. So far it looks like the Indian strain is similar to others, but we will have to do a lot more sequencing to confidently say this. We will have more conclusive information next week,”said Dr. Rakesh Mishra, Director CCMB.

Two institutes functioning under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – CCMB and the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) – have started conducting genetic sequencing of virus isolates from coronavirus patients’ samples. The aim is to
have a better understanding of coronavirus mutations in India.

Genome sequencing is important as it helps in finding drugs and vaccines, besides establishing how the virus mutates and at what speed. Some viruses, such as the coronaviruses that cause flu, change their genetic code extremely rapidly. This is the main reason why it’s so difficult to find a vaccine for coronaviruses. They evolve quickly, making vaccines defunct.

“World over there are 3,500 genome sequences which have dropped so far, but much more is required. Viruses often show different sequences in different people. Like children will have different genome sequences from their parents but you can still establish the
relationship between them. It is important for us to do this to understand how this virus has spread from one person to another and what the exact pathway was,” said Dr. Mishra. It is also essential to finding ways to deal with the spread of the virus.

The coronavirus is primarily made of three important elements — spike proteins that help the virus bind to a living cell, ribonucleic acid (RNA) strands that start replicating inside a living cell and fatty envelop that holds all the components together. The RNA strands are like codes that determine how the virus behaves. Coronaviruses have about 26,000 to 32,000 bases or RNA “letters” in their length. The virus multiplies inside living organisms’ cells by creating copies for the RNA. However, during the process of replication, errors or mutations may occur.

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