Scientists race to study variants in India as cases explode

On Monday, the World Health Organization named the new version of the virus as “a type of concern” based on preliminary research, with those first found in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but spreading to other countries Huh.

Maria Van Kerkhov, WHO’s technical head for COVID-19, said, “We need more information about this virus version. We need to do more sequencing, targeted sequencing and sharing in India and elsewhere Is needed so that we know how much this virus is circulating. “

Viruses are constantly mutated, and there are more opportunities for new versions to emerge as a result of increased infection.

But India was slow to initiate the necessary genetic monitoring to see if those changes were occurring and if they were making coronoviruses more contagious or fatal.

Indian scientists say their work has been hampered by bureaucratic hurdles and the government’s reluctance to share critical data. India is sequencing about 1% of its total cases, and not all results have been uploaded to the global database of coronavirus genomes.

When there is not enough sequencing, blind spots will occur and more worrisome mutations can persist until they occur widely, she said, including Alina Chan, a postdoctoral researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, which is a global ranking effort. Is tracking

Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “There are all signs of this virus that we should be concerned about.”

Revealed for the first time in coastal Maharashtra state last year, the new version has been found in a sample in 19 of the 27 states surveyed. Meanwhile, for the first time in the UK, there has been a decline in India in the last 45 days.

Dr. studying microorganisms at Christian Medical College in Vellore, Southern India. Gagandeep Kang said that researchers need to find out if the variant is capable of infecting people who previously had COVID-19 and if so, whether it can cause serious illness. .

“I don’t know why people don’t see it as important,” she said.

Sequencing efforts in India have been hampered. A global data sharing effort, the country uploads 0.49 sequences per 1,000 cases for GISAID, Chan said. The US, which had its own troubles with genetic monitoring, uploads about 10 in 1,000, while the UK does so in about 82 per 1,000 cases.

At the end of last year, in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of making India “self-sufficient”, Indian government institutions were ordered to buy domestic raw materials wherever possible. This proved impossible, as all materials were imported for sequencing, resulting in more paperwork, said Anurag Agarwal, director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology. He said the barriers were most pronounced between September and December, but his lab was able to find workarounds and continue sequencing.

Other laboratories did not do so and scientists said that this should have happened when India had prepared its index, as the cases were decreasing at the time.

Even after a federal effort began on January 18, bringing together 10 laboratories that can sequence 7,500 samples weekly, actual work did not begin until mid-February, due to other logistics issues, a virologist Said Dr. Shahid Jamil, who heads the Scientific Advisory Group advising the consortium.

By then, the affairs of India had gained momentum.

Jamil said that India has seized around 20,000 samples, but only 15,000 were reported publicly as some important data was missing. As of the end of last month, one-third of the samples sent by the states were unusable, he said.

And now, the virulent virus has infected many employees of working laboratories.

“Many of our labs are facing this problem,” he said.


Pathi reported from Bangalore and authors Danika Kirka of the Associated Press in London and Chonchu Nagashangwa in New Delhi contributed to the report.


The Associated Press Department of Health and Sciences has support from the Science Education Department of Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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