𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗻𝗲𝗲𝗱 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗦𝗔𝗥𝗦-𝗖𝗼𝗩-𝟮 𝗚𝗲𝗻𝗼𝗺𝗲 𝗦𝗲𝗾𝘂𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗶𝗻𝗴 : Professor Sharif Akhteruzzaman

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This article is from my college life friend Professor Sharif Akhteruzzaman Mintu, Department of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology, University of Dhaka. I took the article from his Facebook. I thought I would publish the article for the reader of Narail Kantho online newspaper. So I picked up the text exactly below:

Professor Sharif Akhteruzzaman, Department of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology, University of Dhaka : The ongoing pandemic of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has suddenly and drastically changed the way we lived in the present world just few days ago. We have not seen such a devastation in the recent past history since the World War II. The virus has already killed more than 1,50,000 people worldwide, billions are at risk of getting infected, while millions are at risk of dying. There is no drug yet with convincing scientific evidence that can cure the illness, neither is there any effective vaccine in sight. We really don’t know how is the crisis going to end. But we know it for sure that the post-pandemic world is never going to be the same. Therefore, envisioning a comprehensive strategy to cope with the post-pandemic challenges by exploring all scientific means and ways of 21st century is crucial.

We all know by now that the causative agent of CODID-19 is a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. Biologically speaking, viruses are not true biological entity and therefore require a host to survive. All viruses carry their genetic information as either DNA or RNA. The SARS-CoV-2 genome is an RNA molecule of about 30,000 bases containing only 15 genes. The human genome on the other hand is a double helix DNA about three billion bases in size and contains about 30,000 genes. RNA is less stable and more prone to mutation than DNA, so RNA viruses generally change and evolve faster. This sometimes allows RNA viruses to jump from one species to another.

Coronavirus did not just pop up very recently. There are hundreds of coronaviruses belonging to a large family of viruses called coronaviridae. They have been around us for long time in many avian and mammal reservoirs including bats, camels, civets, pangolins, mice, dog and cats. The current trail of death and disease around the world is believed to have created by at least eight strains of the novel coronavirus.

Since novel coronavirus is a new virus, mining its genome sequence is of crucial importance. Genome sequencing has now become a powerful tool for tracking diseases called “Genomic prediction”. Whole genome sequencing will help researchers identify genetic changes that occur in a virus when it spreads through the population. The changes in the genetic sequence of the viral genomes collected from several patients will allow the monitoring of the spread of the disease within the country and between populations over time. It will also provide us with answers of the following questions which is not certainly known to us at this moment.
• Why some countries are the worst-hit by the virus and some are not?
• Why children seem to less vulnerable than adults?
• What will happen if the virus evolves into a more virulent strain?
• How fast is the coronavirus mutating?
• How can a vaccine be developed targeting a particular population?
• Where did the virus actually originated?
From a country perspective, the most important information from the viral genome sequence at this moment will be; which particular viral strain/s are prevalent in our country, identify infection hotspots or super-spreaders (individuals who spread infection larger than expected number of people) and target public health intervention. This will also help develop a vaccine targeting our own population.

Many countries have already started sequencing the viral genomes collected from the patients. In India three institutes (CSRI, CCMB and IGIB) have started working together on the whole genome sequencing of the novel coronavirus. The government of UK has announced a £20 million investment for mapping the COVID-19 spread in UK through whole genome sequencing. The study will be conducted through a consortium comprised of several research organizations and numerous academic institutes. According to NCBI (National Centre for Biotechnology Information) there are 818 entries of SRAS-Cov-2 complete genome sequence from various countries around the world. Countries submitted complete genome sequence include USA, China, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Nigeria with highest number of submissions from USA.

From our country we need to take initiative to sequence the whole genome of the virus samples collected from the patient in order to understand more about the virus type, its origin, rate of mutation and most importantly how could we face the next wave of infection in case of its re-emergence. In Bangladesh we have several universities and institutes capable of doing genome sequencing with necessary expertise. What is important we need to act very fast before it is too late.