COVID-19: UK Scientists Track Genetic Code and Mutations

Nicky Broyd

March 23, 2020

A £20m UK genome sequencing alliance has been formed to map the spread of coronavirus and virus mutations.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK) involves the NHS, public health agencies, and academic institutions.

The aim is to provide large-scale, rapid sequencing of the viral genome. Findings will be shared with the NHS and the Government.

The sequencing network centres include Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford, and Sheffield, as well as the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Guiding Treatments

In a news release, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said: "Genomic sequencing will help us understand COVID-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions."

Professor Fiona Watt, executive chair of the Medical Research Council, added: "We are now applying specialist expertise in our fight to slow the spread of coronavirus and accelerate treatments for those affected.
"The ambitious and coordinated response of our research community to the COVID-19 challenge is remarkable."

Real Insights

Professor Paul Klenerman, group head and consultant physician, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, is among experts involved in the work commenting via the Science Media Centre. "Sequencing virus genomes at scale can give us real insights into how the virus evolves in real time," he said.

"If there is variability in key parts of the virus, it would be incredibly important for vaccine design."

Nick Loman, professor of microbial genomics and bioinformatics, University of Birmingham, said: "Right now the important questions we can help answer with sequencing are to help understand the role of international importations into the UK versus local spread within and between regions of the UK. 

"As more interventions, both pharmaceutical and otherwise are used, we can see the effect of these on the population of viruses and work out how effective they are. Finally we can start to estimate the true real size of the pandemic bearing in mind there are likely to be large numbers of cases that we are unable to detect."


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