Country lagging behind in genome sequencing | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 04, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:25 AM, May 04, 2020

Country lagging behind in genome sequencing

Though countries around the world, including Bangladesh's South Asian neighbours, are unraveling and analysing the genome of the coronavirus to better know its nature and behaviour, the country is yet to embark on genome sequencing.

"We do not know how long the virus will stay in our country. We know that the virus behaved differently in different countries," said Mustak Ibn Ayub, assistant professor at the department of genetic engineering and biotechnology at the University of Dhaka.

"To understand the nature of the virus, we need genome sequencing."

A number of institutions in the country have the capacity to carry out genome sequencing of the virus, he said.

"A national committee can be formed for genome sequencing. We have resources and we have to use them."

A genome is the complete genetic material of an organism, in this case, the coronavirus.

Genome sequencing is a powerful tool for tracking diseases through a process called genomic prediction. It helps researchers identify the genetic changes that occur in a virus when it spreads through the population, experts said.

This sequencing will help scientists understand, for example, why some countries are suffering more from Covid-19, how fast the virus is mutating, and how a vaccine can be developed for a particular population.

Three serotypes of coronavirus have been found so far and they are -- A, B, and C -- said Sharif Akhteruzzaman, professor of genetic engineering and biotechnology at DU.

"In Europe and the US, A and C serotypes were found in large numbers whereas in Southeast Asian countries, the B serotype is more dominant," he said.

Genome sequencing will help scientists devise a proper strategy and predict the future of the outbreak, he added.

Government officials said they are now focusing on testing and reducing fatalities, but have plans for undertaking genome sequencing.

"We are also thinking of genome sequencing but now our priority is to do more tests and reduce the spread and deaths," said Abul Kalam Azad, director general of the Directorate General of Health Services.

As this virus will not go away soon, "we will do the sequencing once the situation improves", he said.

Neighbouring India, Pakistan, and Nepal, as well as countries around the world have been reporting genome sequences of the virus from patient samples.

In New York, for example, scientists deduced from sequencing samples of the virus that the viral strain dominant in the city arrived from Europe.

Covid-19 has so far infected more than three million people in 210 countries and territories around the world and caused over 2,45,000 deaths.

The first case in Bangladesh was reported on March 8 and as of yesterday, 177 have died with the virus and 9,455 cases were detected.

Sources in the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) said the institute has no plans for genome sequencing right now.

"Globally, around 13,000 genome sequences were done so far but no major differences were found. We will do it soon," said ASM Alamgir, principal scientific officer at the IEDCR.

He, however, could not say when the work of genome sequencing will begin.


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