HYDERABAD: Amid the worrying news of the rise in Covid-19 cases in certain States, Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) has flagged the low number of genome sequencing of the novel Coronavirus in the country and highlighted the need for taking up extensive genomic surveillance to keep dangerous variants of the virus at bay.
In a recent study, scientists from the CCMB presented their analysis of over 5,000 variants of the virus detected through genome sequencing in India over the last one year. They pointed out that a few variants are spreading more in some States. One such variant, N440K, has been observed to be spreading more in South India. The scientists stressed that to combat these variants there is a need to increase genome sequencing. So far, the country has deposited only 6,400 genomes of the virus to the global database. They also said the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), launched by the Centre with an aim of sequencing five per cent of all the positive cases, must address this problem soon.
“The novel variants, which are worrying many countries, have been identified with only a low prevalence in India so far. These include those with immune-escape E484K mutation and the N501Y mutation with a higher transmission rate. However, their apparent low prevalence might simply be because not enough sequencing has been done. More Coronavirus genomes need to be sequenced across the country to accurately identify the emergence of these and other new variants,” Dr Rakesh Mishra, CCMB Director and corresponding author on the study, said.
Closer surveillance is needed to understand its spread, he said. “Accurate and timely detection of new variants that may show greater infectivity or worse clinical symptoms, including immune escape, will be extremely important to preempt disastrous consequences,” he added. Dr Divya Tej Sowpati, co-corresponding author, said: “Spike protein mutations have implications on surveillance and management, vaccines, therapeutics and the emergence of reinfections. We need to have a focused approach towards monitoring the virus mutations.”