UK variant hunters lead global race to stay ahead of COVID

London (AP) – On March 4, 2020, when there were only 84 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK, Professor Sharon Peacock acknowledged that the country needed to increase its capacity to analyze the genetic makeup of the virus.

Microbiologists at the University of Cambridge understood that genomic sequencing would be crucial in detecting disease, controlling epidemics and developing vaccines. So he started working with colleagues across the country to create a plan. Within a month, the government provided 20 20 million (28 28 million) to fund their work.

This initiative helped make Britain a world leader in the rapid analysis of genetic material from a large number of COVID-19 infections, producing more than 40% of the genomic sequences known to date. These days, their priority is to find new types that are more dangerous or resistant to vaccines, information that is important to help researchers improve the vaccine or fight new mutating viruses.

“They showed the world how you do this,” said Dr. John H. Snyder, president of Innovative Medicine at Scripps Research in San Diego, California. Said Eric Topol.

Genomic sequencing is essentially the process of mapping the unique genetic makeup of an individual organism – in this case the virus that causes COVID-19. The technology is being used by researchers to study everything from cancer to food poisoning and the spread of the flu virus, while officials are using it for the first time to provide real-time surveillance of global epidemics.

Moore, 62, is the executive director and chair of the COVID-19 UK Genomics Consortium, leading Britain’s gradual effort, a group formed a year ago, known as COG-UK.

During the first week of this month, COG-UK picked up 13,171 viruses, up from 260 during its first 12 days of operation in March last year.

Behind the growth is a system that combines the science of genomic sequencing with the resources of Britain’s national health care system.

Positive COVID-19 tests from hospitals and community testing programs across the country are sent to a network of 17 laboratories, where scientists extract genetic material from each swab and analyze it to identify the virus’s unique genetic code. These references are provided with public health data after the sequence to better understand how, where and why COVID-19 is spread.

While mutations in the virus correspond to a vague increase in cases, it is a key to a new form of anxiety circulating.

The importance of genomic sequencing became clear late last year, as the number of new infections began to rise in south-east England. As the case progressed despite strict local restrictions, public health officials went to work to find out the cause.

Combining genome sequencing data, scientists have discovered a new form that includes many mutations that make it easier for viruses to pass from one person to another. Equipped with this information, Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a national lockdown, repealing the strategy of local sanctions, which failed to include the new type.

Scientific suturing is crucial, but it’s like finding a needle in a haystack. Peerk said researchers must use genetic sequences from thousands of harmful species to find rare endangers.

“It’s important for us to understand what types of forms are circulating in the United Kingdom and around the world, and so it affects vaccine development and how we might have to adapt to the vaccine.”

The effort is a worldwide collaboration, with more than 120 countries submitting a sequence to GISAID, a data sharing hub originally created to track the influenza virus.

Iceland, Australia, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark actually have a higher percentage of their COVID-19 cases than Britain, respectively, and Denmark works faster. But the work of COG-UK, combined with the size of Britain and a large number of cases, has made it a world leader in conforming to COVID-19. The UK has submitted 379,294 out of about 898,000 sequences in the GISAID database.

The work is also paying dividends for advanced countries like Denmark, where scientists use tools developed in Britain to analyze their own data, said Mads Albertsen, a professor at Denmark’s Elberg University, as part of the country’s genomic sequencing efforts.

“The whole thing is what the UK has done,” Albertson said. “They have a lot more researchers and a more professional structure around how to use the data.”

Tople said the UK was also trying to learn from Britain as the Biden administration reversed the anti-science policies of its predecessor, which had slowed the country’s gradual efforts. Representatives from COG-UK participated in a recent call with American researchers and the Rockefeller Foundation, aimed at building capacity in the United States.

“For Mor’s and Crew’s credit, they just didn’t stop, respectively,” Topol said. “They set up labs to do this other work, which is really a very intensive lab assessment. And then there is also the epidemiological assessment. So, everything has to be fired on every cylinder, you know. It’s like a 12-cylinder car. They all have to fire to move. “

The UK’s sequential success was built on the foundations of ground-breaking genetics in Britain, drawing on the work of James Watson, Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin, who were credited with discovering the chemical structure of DNA. Other British scientists developed early sequencing techniques and later new techniques that reduced the time and cost of creating sequences.

This success attracted investment, such as the Wellcome Trust’s decision to create a Sanger Center to help map the 1992 human genome, furthering the pool of expertise in Britain. And Britain’s National Health Service provided researchers with a lot of data to study.

Yet colleagues say the COG-UK sends credit for the success individually, although it prefers to publish the work of others.

An incredibly good organizer, she glued the country’s DNA investigators together through goodwill and chatrooms. Part of the trick was persuading well-known scientists to put their ego and academic competition together to help fight the epidemic, said Andrew Page, a computer analysis expert at Pathogen Genomics who works with CG-UK.

Peacock’s work on the project has earned her a variant-hunter-in-chief’s moniker. But he prefers a simple word.

“I’m doing my best to try and help the population, both first and foremost, to control the epidemic in the United Kingdom and elsewhere,” he said. “Maybe that’s a great sentence for him, but the scientist will do it.” . “


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