We would all agree that India as a country did not handle the second wave of Covid-19 very well. The lack of oxygen, medicine, beds, and infrastructure was disheartening and frightening at the same time. Do you know what else India isn't handling well? The answer is Genome sequencing.
As of today, 65,156 samples collected from Covid patients have undergone Whole Genome Sequencing. If you compare it with the total number of positive cases, then this figure is significantly low. But what is Genome Sequencing and why is it important for the fight against coronavirus? Keep reading this article and we will answer all your questions.
What Is Genome Sequencing?
Genome sequencing is nothing but the process of decoding or unfolding the Genomes of our body. But what is a Genome?
Food is made with the help of a recipe book. A recipe book contains a set of instructions. Now think of food as our body. It is made up of millions of cells. These cells contain a set of instructions. We call this set of instructions, a genome. It is made up of DNA. Each part of the body is made up of different kinds of cells. But the cell of that particular part is the same. This is because their genome contains the same set of instructions just like we use the same set of instructions to make a particular dish from our cooking book. If we write these instructions alphabetically, it would look like this.
Here A is adenine followed by a guanine, which is followed by thymine (T), which in turn is followed by a cytosine (C), another cytosine (C), and so on.
Why is Genome Sequencing important?
Now that we have an Idea about Genome Sequencing, let us look at its importance. Coronavirus has a tendency to mutate. This means that it can change its nature as it multiplies. This changes the way the virus spreads. It may also change how harmful the virus will be. Hence it is extremely important to carry genome sequencing.
- It reveals the changing nature of the virus
- It will tell you if the virus has intensified
- It will tell you if it is spreading more quickly
- It will also tell you if it is causing a more severe disease
- It will help authorities to identify hotspots and super-spreading areas
Why India is far behind compared to the world?
Now that we have some idea about the importance of genome sequencing, let us understand why India is still far behind in the field of the Genome sequence. Do we lack expertise? Do we lack infrastructures/labs? Are we short of lab workers? The answer is "No".
We have enough labs and skilled scientists who can perform genome sequencing. The only reason we are behind is that the government has restricted private labs from doing Covid-19 molecular diagnostic testing from sequencing positive samples. Indian Council of Medical Research in March 2020 passes an order revealing this decision.
The order also clearly stated that any violation of the same would result in legal action. ICMR restated the same order this year in the month of April in an Email sent to the private labs. India is not using its present sequencing capacity.
Many private lab owners told that they have the capacity to perform a couple of hundred sequencing in a single day. But they are prohibited to do so. They said that they approached the ICMR for the same cause but "We are considering it" is what they received as an answer.
Who is currently performing genome sequencing?
On the 25th of December 2020, the Government of India formed INSACOG. INSACOG stands for Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium On Genomics or Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genetics Consortium. It is a forum that falls under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and its job is to study and monitor genome sequencing and mutation or strains of the Covid Virus. INSACOG comprises 28 advanced laboratories for genome sequencing situated in different parts of India.
Statistics related to Genome Sequencing
After forming the SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics in 2020, the number of labs included has gone up to 28. The Government targeted 5% genome sequencing for corona positive cases. But the number hasn't reached even one percent.
To date, Maharastra has performed genome sequencing on a total of 15263 samples and Kerala on 6761. This accounts for 23.4% and 10.4% of the total sample respectively. Maharastra and Kerala are the only two states that have genome sequencing capability of their own. Other states have to send the samples to INSACOG labs which are operated under the central government.
Other big states have a significantly lower number of tests. Bihar is standing at 0.5% of the total samples and Uttar Pradesh at 1.6% with a total of 1049 samples. Madhya Pradesh accounts for 1545 samples and Delhi, 5764. Figures from northeastern states are alarming. Manipur has the highest number of samples tested with 1% of the total tested samples.
Mumbai excelling in Genome Sequencing
Mumbai is not only at the top when it comes to the number of genome sequencing performed, but it is also increasing the number of labs. They are not only processing genome sequencing on the general covid patient's sample, but they are going for a niche now.
One such lab that was inaugurated in the month of August this year is Kasturba Hospital’s molecular diagnostic laboratory. This lab works under the civic-run BYL Nair Hospital. They are obtaining samples from travelers landing at the city airport, patients who had mild to severe infection after taking both doses of the vaccine, people who had been re-infected with Covid, and those who were admitted to an Intensive Care Unit for a lengthy period of time.
BMC announced that 304 out of 376 tested samples were found positive for the Delta subtype of the Sars-Cov-2 virus (Covid causing virus). There wasn't any case of the Delta plus variant which is a variant of concern in India.
A higher number of Genome Sequencing is crucial for the fight against coronavirus. Yes, we are vaccinating our people at a great speed but the mutation is something that a virus does not stop.
We need to keep track of the development and changes in the virus if we want to restrict the covid. Given the diversity and population of India, it is the need of the hour for India to perform more Genome sequencing.
Fortunately, the government has told recently that they are planning to include other private hospitals as well.