The government is going to set up a Centre for Next Generation Sequencing and Analytics by importing state-of-the-art technology for genetic research. A Tk50 crore project has been taken up in this regard.
The centre will be set up at the National Institute of Biotechnology (NIB) in Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka. After the implementation of the project, it will be possible to sequence the complete genome of infectious-disease causing organisms, such as dengue, chikungunya and novel coronavirus and their variations.
Besides, the project will help identify accurately the causes of various diseases, their diagnoses and preventive measures. The country will then be better able to invent vaccines after completing successful genome sequencing of the microorganisms.
The NIB in Bangladesh has already been an international focal point in genetic research. However, the institute does not have next generation sequencing facilities.
NIB has two Sanger sequencing machines -- a previous method to decipher the genome which requires a long time to deliver the result. The institute's officials say the machines cannot deliver the complete genome sequences of plants, animals, fish or humans.
Chief scientific officer of NIB Dr Jahangir Alam said Sanger sequencing can neither decipher all types of sequencing nor deliver exact results.
"That is why we could not complete research on mosquito-borne chikungunya or dengue," he claimed.
Dr Jahangir said genome sequencing is a must to tackle any novel infection as soon as it is detected in the country.
"With the Sanger machines, we could unveil some variation sequencing of the novel coronavirus. We could have done more if there was a next-generation lab," he added.
According to the researchers, there are several public universities, medical colleges and research institutes in the country which have next-generation genome sequencing labs.
Of them, Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (Science Laboratory) and Bangladesh Jute Research Institute have state-of-the-art sequencing labs. The Science Laboratory has been able to sequence 350 variations of the novel coronavirus genome.
There are also such labs in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Dhaka University, Dhaka Medical College Hospital, Jashore University of Science and Technology, Chattogram Veterinary University and Child Health Research Foundation.
Some non-governmental organisations, including North South University and Globe Biotech, have next-generation genome sequencing laboratories.
Although different countries have made significant progress in genetic research, Bangladesh is still in its infancy.
Even then, the country has had some success in genetic research as complete genome sequencing of jute, Hilsa, Black Bengal goat, buffalo and hepatitis B virus has already been deciphered.
For such genome decoding, help from foreign labs was taken.
The next-generation sequencing machine can unravel the complete genome sequences of animals, plants and micro-organisms fast and at a low-cost.
Through this, the life cycle of the respective organism is obtained, and the beneficial or harmful aspects of any certain gene can be known from the design.
Genome sequencing helps in understanding, identifying and mapping of protective measures against complex pathogens. The impact of heredity on life as well as the impact of the environment can be understood from this.
The capacity to analyse and preserve the decoded data enables a tapping of the benefits from next-generation sequencing, which capacity the NIB lacks.
The duration of the Tk50 crore project to ramp up the NIB's capacity is July 2020 to June 2022.
ABM Khademul Islam, associate professor of Dhaka University genetic engineering department who was also a member of the genome sequencing team of the Black Bengal goat, told The Business Standard said a Sanger machine takes two to three weeks to decipher a gene.
"In contrast, next-generation sequencing technology can sequence many genes in one day. This will make the task of diagnosing and treatment of complex diseases much easier," he commented.