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CSIR-IGIB, FIND to set up micro labs for genomic sequencing

PT Jyothi Datta | | | Updated on: Dec 06, 2021
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Initial plan is to have three such labs run by IGIB near Mumbai airport, in Haryana, and in North East

With the aim of taking genome sequencing to hard-to-reach locations and reducing the time to get results from these tests, CSIR-India’s Institute of Genomics and Integrated Biology has partnered with FIND, a global alliance for diagnostics.

The concept is to decentralise genomic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 through micro labs located closer to where the RT-PCR testing takes place, an airport for instance, said Dr Sanjay Sarin, Vice-President (Access) at FIND. The initial plan is to have three such labs run by IGIB, near the Mumbai airport, in Haryana, and in the North East, Sarin told BusinessLine . The initiative is significant following emergence of the Omicron variant and the need for a wider spread of genome sequencing.

At present, test samples are sent to centralised labs at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s IGIB or others belonging to INSACOG – the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium – where they are run on high-throughput machines that require adequate samples to be run, explains Sarin. The micro lab will be housed in a redesigned shipping container and the genome sequencing involves the more nimble Oxford Nanopore technology, he added.

Economies of scale

As this plan gets scaled up, it would give the economies of scale on genome testing, he said. INSACOG comprises 28 government labs, and the ratio of a genome sequencing lab to the labs where RTPCR tests are done is almost 1:100, he pointed out. “The smaller genome sequencing labs will process less samples, but will have a shorter turnaround time,”he said. It could also help identify genomic hotspots, and mutations associated with disease severity, critical for surveillance and public health action.

FIND would support and finance this initiative, for possibly a year, he indicated. The global alliance is a co-convener of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator - diagnostics pillar, and a World Health Organization collaborating centre for laboratory strengthening and diagnostic technology evaluation.

Dr Rajesh Pandey, Principal Scientist, CSIR-IGIB, said in a statement, “Micro labs-based genome sequencing of pathogens would take labs to the people, allowing for rapid variant detection and prioritising sequencing of clinically relevant samples. This would advance a ‘hub-and-spoke’ model of genomic surveillance, comprising both – MegaLabs (high-throughput sequencing) and MicroLabs (high-priority sequencing).” Explaining its importance, he indicated it would help in monitoring the ports of entry for possibly tracking Omicron entry to India.

Prof Anurag Agrawal, Director, CSIR-IGIB added that such efforts were important in preparing the country “for genomic surveillance of pathogens, with trained genomics manpower, data management and data sharing”.

Published on December 07, 2021

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