A team of researchers from The University of the West Indies, St Augustine embarked on a project to analyse coronavirus genomes from infected individuals.
A release issued today by UWI states “that the exercise will enhance Trinidad and Tobago’s capacity to identify different lineages of the virus and monitor mutations in order to track the virus’ spread, distinguish between local and newly imported cases, and to better understand the virus and our immune system’s response to it.”
“The important thing,” says project lead Christine Carrington, a Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at The UWI St. Augustine’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, “is that whole genome sequencing of the virus can provide epidemiological insights that can inform public health responses. The Nanopore sequencing technology we are using is very rapid. The data is available in real-time, so the insights gained are actionable.”
The exercise was titled “COVID-19: Infectious disease Molecular Epidemiology for PAthogen Control and Tracking (COVID-19: IMPACT)”, the project is intended to extract and sequence genomes of severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV-2) from patient samples.
Genomes are the “hereditary blueprint” of all living organisms, including viruses, written on a strand of ribonucleic acid (RNA) in so-called RNA viruses like SAR-COV-2. RNA viruses frequently undergo mutation and by tracking these changes scientists are able to gather important data about diseases and their spread.
The data, Professor Carrington says, has many uses: “You can use it to determine whether a group of cases are linked to each other. For example, if you detect a number of cases in a workplace, you can address questions such as ‘are these infections related to each other? Has there been spread within the workplace? Or did each of the affected individuals acquire the infection independently, outside the workplace?’”
“The project is funded by a grant from the UWI-Trinidad and Tobago Research, Development and Impact (RDI) Fund and can make an important contribution to the national COVID-19”
The research team includes investigators from UWI, Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Health, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the University of Oxford and the University of London.
Professor Carrington says the data will also be very useful when Trinidad and Tobago has access to a COVID-19 vaccine.