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UK whole genome sequence alliance to map spread of coronavirus

30 March 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1041

The UK Government and its chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, have backed research to map how COVID-19 spreads and behaves by using whole genome sequencing.

The COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium - comprised of the NHS, Public Health Agencies, Wellcome Sanger Institute, and numerous other academic institutions - has invested £20 million to analyse the genetic code of COVID-19 samples circulating in the UK and share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the Government. In doing so, it hopes to give public health agencies and clinicians a comprehensive tool to fight the virus.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: 'At a critical moment in history, this new consortium will bring together the UK's brightest and best scientists to build our understanding of this pandemic, tackle the disease and ultimately, save lives.'

Samples from confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be sent to a variety of sequencing centres around the UK, including Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Norwich, Nottingham, Oxford and Sheffield. 

By looking at the whole virus genome in people who have tested positive for COVID-19, researchers can monitor changes in the virus at a national scale to further understand how the virus spreads and if new strains are emerging. 

'This virus is one of the biggest threats our nation has faced in recent times and crucial to helping us fight it is understanding how it is spreading' said Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England. 'Harnessing innovative genome technologies will help us tease apart the complex picture of coronavirus spread in the UK, and rapidly evaluate ways to reduce the impact of this disease on our society.'

It is hoped that the findings from the consortium will also help prepare the UK and the world for future pandemics.

Sir Patrick said: 'Genomic sequencing will help us understand COVID-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
UK launches whole genome sequence alliance to map spread of coronavirus
Wellcome Sanger Institute |  23 March 2020
UK scientists to sequence coronavirus genome in bid to understand spread of pandemic
The Independent |  23 March 2020
UK to map coronavirus spread with whole genome sequence alliance
Pharmafield |  23 March 2020
Whole genome sequencing to map coronavirus spread
Healthcare in Europe |  23 March 2020
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