The genome sequencing of five strains of the coronavirus has been obtained by two local labs working in collaboration, a feat that will help understand genetic mutations of the virus and develop an effective treatment for COVID19.
A molecular diagnostic lab, DNA Solution Ltd, and the Designated Research Institute for Chemical Measurements (DRiCM) under BCSIR jointly conducted the research work. Identifying the unique genetic codes of the virus may help develop an effective vaccine and improve the COVID-19 treatment, according to researchers.
The preparation for the sequencing process started a month ago and the first five strains were sequenced at the research lab of DNA Solution Ltd in 48 hours by Friday.
A new method, "Amplicon Based Next Generation Sequencing" was applied for the first time in Bangladesh in the sequencing work. It involved analysing the genetic variations after the RNA of the virus has been extracted and amplified, said Mala Khan, director of DRiCM.
"The results are more accurate and reliable in this method," she added.
The sequenced data has been uploaded to GISAID to be shared with the scientific community. GISAID is a platform of a public–private partnership between the German government and nonprofit organisations ensuring access to the most complete collection of genetic sequence data.
About 150 samples from COVID19 patients of the Central Police Hospital were collected for cracking the genetic code of the virus.
The genome sequencing of the 145 others will be complete in the next two weeks. The collaborative work was supported by the science and technology ministry, Khan said.
Genome sequencing helps find vital information, for example the strain type, virulence, location of origin and differences between strains transmitted within the country and in other countries.
It is thought that the genetic variations are the reasons why the impact of the pandemic is less in terms of fatalities and infection in one place whereas it wreaks havoc in another country, said Fazle Alam Rabbi, a scientist at DNA Solution. The molecular diagnostic lab got an approval in April from the government to run PCR tests for patients of the police hospital.
"We tried to collect samples of patients from different parts of the country, from Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur and Chittagong to get an overall picture of the coronavirus infection here."
The coronavirus is an RNA virus that is constantly mutating and the only way to identify the mutations is through the whole genome sequencing. "If we can identify functional mutations meaning the changes in the protein structure that enables the virus to become more aggressive or otherwise, we will be able to help doctors with patient management," Rabbi said. In the long run, the findings will contribute to the global efforts to develop a vaccine.
Moreover, the local drug manufacturers can use the data to make a product that will be more effective for patients in Bangladesh.
The team of about 10 researchers have the capacity to complete genome sequencing of 10,000 strains, but further sequencing work depends on the findings from the 150 samples.
"If we find any functional mutation, we may collect more samples to run analyses."
Earlier, on May 12, Child Health Research Foundation completed genome sequencing of the coronavirus, following a different technique called metagenomic sequencing.