To quote Sun Tzu – “If you know yourself and not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”
The wise words are more important in today’s time, as we are reeling under a global threat of coronaviruses. No matter how strong we’re fighting with the little virus and gaining the upper hand by mitigating the spread and taking the mortality rate down, the virus somehow emerges as a new variant and starts infecting more people. With a proactive approach of diagnostic labs worldwide, making the RT-PCR test easy and accessible like never before, including covid home sample collection, along with the measures like vaccinating, masking up, maintaining a social distance and hygiene, one of the most important aspects is to understand the virus better, so we can stay a step ahead of it. Comes Genome sequencing, one of the best ways invented by medical science to understand the base model of any organism, be it humans, animals, or viruses; this testing method has gained a lot of attention worldwide.
What is Genome Sequencing?
A genome is the organism’s genetic code or in simple terms, its instruction manual. From how the organism was built to how it may grow, the genome contains all the information. Human genomes are made as double-stranded DNA, and these are more than 3 billion base letters long. On the other hand, a virus genome can either be made of DNA or a single-strand RNA. Coronaviruses found across the globe are made up of RNAs, especially the SARS-CoV-2 and all its variants, including the latest, Omicron. These single-strand RNAs are just 30000 base letters long. These letters, or their base information, can be read one by one by the process known as sequencing.
Advantages of Genome Sequencing
When the coronavirus sequence is found in the sample, be it a covid home sample collection or given in the hospital, taken from the nose and mouth of patients, it helps identify the virus and confirms the presence of COVID-19 disease. Thus, if we ramp up sequencing rapidly and on a large scale, it can assist the health officials to evaluate the potential of spread and also in understanding any patterns in new variants. In the long term, it will help develop fresh vaccines that can eliminate or suppress the virus circulating currently.
Let us look at more advantages of sequencing in understanding mutations:
One of the most important advantages of genome sequencing is to help find if the transmission of the virus is locally or imported from other regions. A global database of genomes can help the researchers to examine and conclude by comparing them so a correct assessment of local transmission is made for each country. It will give the local authorities the right direction towards mitigating the spread.
Chain of Transmission
Another advantage of virus genome sequencing is to know the number of chain reactions in a particular place or community. When you provide a throat and nasal sample through covid home sample collection or at a hospital, apart from giving you the result in due time, the samples may go for sequencing. As sequencing helps identify the unique genetic changes in all those infected by a single chain of transmission, it will conclude if the genetic changes are also occurring due to another chain of reaction in a cluster of cases in the same area. This information along with patient contact tracing can help control the spread in hospitals, communities, etc.
Large Scale Growth
Genome sequencing can help estimate the growth rate of the outbreak or epidemic. The data can help predict long-term global impact along with insights from other sources. It is especially useful in the current pandemic owing to the fact that there are many cases that go unreported due to people who are infected but show no symptoms. And this is when people don’t opt for an RT-PCR. With such convenient services today like covid home sample collection, it is encouraged to undergo a test even if you are slightly doubtful of the contract or asymptomatic. Because gaining a correct estimation of virus evolution can help direct the common efforts to purpose.
Capture The Spread In Distinct Places
Another vital advantage of genome sequencing is to capture the information of the virus spread and use it to act quickly to control the epidemic. A global and widespread sequencing can help detect what actually is driving the virus spread by giving more details about its reconstruction locally and internationally. Along with the details of how, when, and where people travel domestically or abroad, the sequencing data can prove to be prudent to understand the trend.
Variation in Genetic Information
Variation and changes in genetics keep happening in a virus genome. However, there doesn’t impact the control measures or how a virus can infect the body. Still, there are few changes that need regular tracking to identify any variation in immune responses. It can be a piece of vital information for the health professionals as it will also help evaluate the severity of the disease and the body’s resistance to antiviral drugs. With genome sequencing, it is possible to track the changes from time to time.
Large-scale genome surveillance is the need of the hour as it can help identify the severity of the pandemic, with new variants emerging. It will also help develop new methods of control in the right direction. However, this is possible with more and more testing. Today, when RT-PCR tests are affordable, accurate, and quick along with easier services such as covid home sample collection, it is wise to undergo covid test as early as possible.
Thanks to South Africa, a country that discovered and alerted the world about the beta, delta, and Omicron variant of the coronavirus. And this was made possible by rapid genome sequencing and a robust medical infrastructure in this country, which is what most of the countries are following now.