U.K. consortium to map COVID-19 spread with genome sequencing

To inform public health measures to control the novel coronavirus outbreak, the U.K. has launched the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium to track viral spread and evolution via genome sequencing of COVID-19 samples.

The group, with £20 million ($33 million) from the U.K. government and Wellcome Trust, comprises the Wellcome Sanger Institute, NHS and multiple public health agencies and academic institutions.

Using samples from confirmed COVID-19 cases, Sanger, in collaboration with sequencing centers throughout the country and with U.K. scientists, will conduct large-scale, rapid SARS-CoV-2 whole genome sequencing and analyze the data.

Comparing the various SARS-CoV-2 genomes could uncover not only how infectious local strains strain are, but also whether new SARS-CoV-2 strains are emerging or have infiltrated the region.

The data will inform the U.K.’s public health measures to contain the virus and could furthermore reveal how SARS-CoV-2 evolves as it spreads.

Genomic comparisons could link specific genome mutations with strain differences in disease severity or the ability to spread to new hosts, which could indicate what healthcare systems need to be prepared for and how widespread and strict community control measures need to be.

Patrick Vallance, government chief scientific adviser, said that genomic sequencing could “help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions.”

The data could point to mutations the virus maintains in response to prophylactic and therapeutic treatments -- mutations that might cause drug resistance; conversely, genes that don’t mutate often could make good drug targets.

Further analysis of the coronavirus crisis can be found at https://www.biocentury.com/coronavirus. The COVID-19 content found on this page, which details policy developments, scientific advances, and progress on countermeasures, is free to all who visit the site.

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