Researchers develop genetic tool to detect mutated forms of Covid-19

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on October 05, 2020

Helps in getting a snapshot of the cluster of bacteria to trace its patterns, analyse genetic information

Researchers at Drexel University have developed a tool that can quickly detect and label SARS-CoV-2 mutated versions.

According to their study published in the journal, PLoS Computational Biology, there are at least 8-14 variants of the novel coronavirus infecting America. Some of which are the same as or subsequently evolved from strains that came from Asia and Europe.

The genetic analysis tool helps in getting a snapshot of the cluster of bacteria to trace its patterns and analyse the genetic information. This will, in turn, help them in identifying how the pathogen is mutating genetically.

Use of markers

They can then use the pattern to categorise viruses with small genetic differences using tags called Informative Subtype Markers (ISM).

The genetic analysis tool has been designed by Drexel graduate researcher Zhengqiao Zhao.

Lead developer of the tool, Gail Rosen, Ph.D., a professor in Drexel's College of Engineering, said in a statement: “The types of SARS-CoV-2 viruses that we see in tests from Asia and Europe is different than the types we're seeing in America.”

He added: “Identifying the variations allows us to see how the virus has changed as it has travelled from population to population. It can also show us the areas where social distancing has been successful at isolating Covid-19.”

According to the researchers, the ISM tool is particularly useful because it does not require an analysis of the full genetic sequence of the virus to identify its mutations.

In the case of SARS-CoV-2, this means reducing the 30,000-base-long genetic code of the virus to a subtype label 20 bases long.

Three positions

Researchers maintained that their tool has also identified certain positions in the virus' genetic sequence that changed together as the virus spread. The researchers stated that three positions in the sequence of the virus have mutated from early April to the end of the summer.

Those positions are in different parts of the genetic sequence. One part is thought to be associated with cellular signaling and replication.

“It's the equivalent of scanning a barcode instead of typing in the full product code number," Rosen said.

Rosen believes that the ISM tool will help them know whether new cases are the result of local transmission or coming from other regions of the United States or parts of the world.

"This allows us to see the very specific fingerprint of Covid-19 from each region around the world, and to look closely at smaller regions to see how it is different," Rosen said.

Published on October 05, 2020

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