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Covid-19: Lack of sequencing delays identification of new variants, says British Scientists

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The lack of ability to sequence the genomes of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for covid-19, may be delaying the identification of new variants in more countries, says British scientist Sharon Peacock.

“I’m concerned that in places where we don’t have sequencing data there are worrying variants. The only reason we know the variants of Brazil and South Africa is because they did sequencing. There are countries that do more sequencing that will find more variants and inform the rest of the world,” he said at a press conference with international journalists.

In addition to being a professor at Cambridge University of Microbiology and Public Health, Sharon Peacock is actively working as a scientific director in the general health directorate of England Public Health England and directing the COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium.

The COG-UK was created to produce large-scale and rapid full genome virus sequencing for British public health services and the UK Government, bringing together public laboratories, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and more than 12 academic institutions.

According to Sharon Peacock, since April 2020, 240,000 genomes have been sequenced and the consortium continues to sequence about 20,000 genomes per week to try to better understand how the disease is transmitted and how it can evolve in terms of mutations and new strains.

This information is added to the international databases where it can be consulted openly.  

It was through the sequencing done in the United Kingdom that the variant identified in England, also known as B117, was identified, considered more infectious and potentially more deadly, in which mutations of type E484K were recently found. 

This mutation in spike protein was also found in variants B1128, found in Brazil, and B1351, which was found in South Africa, against which scientists fear that vaccines are less effective.

“It is not surprising that viruses in different parts of the world find the same way of doing the same, it is called convergent evolution,” said the scientist, in a reference to the phenomenon through which living beings from different backgrounds acquire a similar characteristic.

The sequencing of the genome of the coronavirus can help inform researchers and pharmaceutical about potential changes to vaccines to increase the effectiveness of certain variants, believes the director of COG data sciences, Ewen Harrison

“It will be essential to be able to sequence around the world. It will be an important part of staying one step ahead of the virus,” he explained. 

The covid -19 pandemic caused at least 2,285,334 deaths resulting from more than 104.8 million cases of infection worldwide, according to a report prepared by AFP.

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