- UK beat only US, which has submitted 1.2 million genome sequences
- Tracking virus genome helps scientists spot vaccine-breaking variants
- UK submitted sequences now account for 24 per cent of the global database
Britain has now sequenced more than a million COVID samples in the global battle to track the ever-evolving virus.
Tracking variants is of vital importance as it allows authorities to monitor new and emerging versions of the disease.
Some of these variants can be deadly strains compared to the original, such as the Delta version which quickly became dominant in the UK.
Other forms of concern may be those that develop beyond the protection offered by vaccines, which could potentially reset the epidemic.
Data collected from the COVID genome has already helped identify the prevalence of variants such as beta, which emerged in South Africa.
Genetic sequencing of the virus enabled scientists to identify which genes made it more transmissible and potentially more resistant to vaccines.
The UK’s 1,013,249 submitted COVID genome sequences now account for almost a quarter of all samples shared in the international community.
The UK has become the second country to break the 1 million mark for the Covid genomes deposited in the global database. The database collects genetic data on COVID from around the world and helps scientists track types of anxiety that can be fatal or develop beyond the protection offered by currently available vaccines.
This means that the UK has accumulated the second most sequenced COVID genomes in the world, just after the US (1.2 million).
A distant third place is held by Germany (216,457).
The genome was shared with the Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data Database, which was established in 2008 to track genetic information on bird flu viruses.
Its dissemination has since expanded to track genetic data from all types of influenza and coronaviruses.
UK Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said the nation is helping to play a vital role in the global fight against COVID.
The UK is a world leader in genomics, and our scientific experts play an important role in the global community, sharing their knowledge and findings as part of a worldwide effort to tackle the COVID pandemic.
‘Each test sequenced helps us stay ahead of the variants and learn more about this virus.’
Dr Jenny Harris, head of the UK Health Protection Agency (UKHSA), said the figure of 1 million demonstrated the UK’s scientific potential.
“Sequencing one million genomes is a great achievement and a testament to the UK’s scientific prowess and expertise,” he said.
‘Global cooperation is critical in the fight against COVID-19 and UKHSA is proud to play its part.’
The Genetic Research Centre, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, was one of the UK-based organizations that helped reach the achievement.
Professor Sir Mike Stratton, director of the institute, said it was important to keep a scientific watch on how the virus was changing.
“Genomic data helps researchers identify new virus variants, assess their relative abilities to spread, and help public health officials rapidly detect and respond to local outbreaks,” he said. said.
‘Genomes also inform the development of new vaccines and vaccine boosters and, critically, will allow vaccine avoidance detection, if this happens.’
What is genome sequencing and how does it help fight COVID?
Genetic sequencing is part of the science of genomics, the study of genes and genetics, the tiny building blocks that make up all organisms.
Whole genome sequencing looks at the complete genetic code of an organism which contains the instructions that instruct it to grow and develop.
It can be used to identify genetic diseases in humans and to see how they are evolving in viruses like COVID.
This development includes traits that may make the COVID virus more transmitted between people or may be more resistant to vaccines.
Globally, this enables countries to impose travel restrictions or quarantines on areas of concern, as the UK has done several times during the COVID pandemic.
It can also be used on a smaller scale, for example in a hospital, to determine whether a particular strain is spreading between patients.