Coronavirus: India hunts for new strains as Covid wave looms. Like all viruses, the coronavirus that causes the deadly plague continues to mutate in small ways as it passes from person to person.
Most of these mutations are insignificant, and they do not alter viral behavior.
But some mutations convert the spike protein into a virus that the virus uses to invade and enter human cells – these strains can be highly contagious, cause more serious infections or avoid vaccinations. Such varieties have already been identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, and are now widespread in many lands.
Last week, a senior US health official warned that the spread of highly contagious diseases threatens to escalate the “four-dimensional outbreak” in the country. Brazil’s diversity appears to be highly contagious and could avoid the defenses provided by previous infections, scientists say. Britain’s diversity is in the forefront of a new epidemic in the US and Europe.
Genome researchers around the world are hunting for these disturbing changes. Scientists can detect changes in the genetic sequence of a virus after taking a swab from an infected patient. They break down the genetic code of the virus – essentially demonstrating opening its instruction manual – and begin tracking genetic mutations.
India was the fifth country in the world to have a genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus, separated from its first cases recorded in the southern state of Kerala in January last year. Since then the country has recorded more than 11 million cases – just outside the US – and more than 150,000 deaths from the disease.
Photo captionSee provinces report an increase in infection as dumping cases drop dramatically in India.
But now India is beginning to strengthen its limited-quality genetic monitoring system for local samples of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19.
Time is of the essence: the international clutch has reported an increase in disease as well as declining practices in the country. Naturally, there have been fears that new strains of the virus could be the cause of the spike.
India says it has received 242 cases of three foreign species – mostly UK – from people so far. Scientists say they are less likely to be linked to the latest spike of infection, which is largely due to people dropping surveillance following a sharp drop in cases.
But geneticists are also “investigating” the differences found in samples in provinces such as Maharashtra and Telangana that have increased rates of infection. “We are collecting a lot of samples from this field to investigate whether these two species are related to this phenomenon. We cannot ignore it,” said Dr Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of India’s National Center for Disease Control.
In January, a team of genetic scientists expressed concern in the paper that India “so far does not follow up” fully, as it has included only 6,400 genomes in more than 10.4 million cases (0.06%). “
That’s why genome sequencing issues are so important. First, India has set aside $ 14m (£ 10m) to boost successive efforts. The goal is to track 5% of all tested samples available for standard PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing of gold – which separates the genes from the swab sample – and to have a higher viral load. “It’s something that needs to be done,” said Dr Anurag Agarwal, director of the Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), a leading technology club.
Over the past ten months, India has tracked more than 6,000 samples of coronavirus from 22 regions to find out more about how the virus mutates in humans. (The astonishing number had one variant of the virus that may have been introduced by travelers from Europe.) More than 7,600 mutations have been recorded, “many of which have no effect,” according to Dr. Rakesh Mishra, director of Hyderabad-Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB). .
More viruses have been found in Bangalore than in any other city, according to researchers from the Indian Institute of Science. Researchers say that this suggests that the virus is mutating more rapidly than ever before – three species identified in Bangalore have 27 mutations in their genome with more than 11 mutations in the sample, in addition to the national average (8.4) and the global average (7.3).
It is not easy to follow the standard in a large and diverse country like India.
Labs should pick up samples in your area. There are different platforms with different levels of job automation. Reagents are expensive and must be imported. Freezers store samples, and machines mapping genomes. Obtaining a sample can cost up to $ 75. Samples must be collected by qualified personnel, stored in special containers, and sent to labs nationwide. A country like Kerala does better than others: it sends 25 samples from each region every week to a genetic testing lab in Delhi.
It usually takes 48 hours for a sample sequence. But if you have to follow samples of internationally secured travelers, you need to do so immediately. Dr. Mishra says his lab has found a way to point out something different in 24 hours without finishing all the sequences.