Whole genome sequencing (WGS) for studying pathogens such as the Covid-19-causing SARS-CoV-2 virus, will soon start in BMC public health set-up.
In the past year, Covid-19 samples for genome sequencing had to be sent outside the city, mainly to the NIV in Pune and IGIB in Delhi.
CDC defines Whole genome sequencing as a laboratory procedure that determines the order of bases in the genome of an organism in one process.
The bar-coded DNA from multiple bacteria are combined and put in the whole genome sequencer. The sequencer identifies the A’s, C’s, T’s, and G’s, or bases, that make up each bacterial sequence. The sequencer uses the bar code to keep track of which bases belong to which bacteria.
BMC’s Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory, situated at the Kasturba Hospital campus near Saat Raasta, has already begun a pilot study with an IIT-Bombay start-up team.
Introduction of whole genome sequencing is a part of BMC’s five-year pandemic preparedness plan.
Dr Jayanthi Shastri, who heads the lab, said the availability of WGS within the civic setup would help identify variants faster. BMC could then plan public health strategies, ranging from containment to testing, based on such information.
WGS is an expensive technique, costing over Rs 12,000 per sample in the private setup. In the pilot project, BMC has tied up with Haystacks Analytics, a tech start-up from SINE-IIT Bombay. The pilot is being funded by the biotech department. BMC is planning to carry out WGS at affordable rates.
At present, only elite laboratories in India, such as the IITs or IGIB carry out WGS.
After the February surge, the centre asked BMC to send over 90 samples to NIV and NCDC Delhi to look for variants that could be playing a role. The tests have not shown any new variant or mutation, leading scientists to conclude that the surge was due to a failure of people to adhere to Covid-appropriate behaviour.