Dr Yinka Adekunle, a Virlogist, says sequencing based surveillance will help to check the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the country.
Adekunle told Newsmen in Abuja on Saturday that genomic sequencing for surveillance at scale would be effective in identifying mutations and preventing the spread of new strains, thereby creating a safer future for Nigerians.
Genome sequencing refers to order or stringing in the entire genome (genetic DNA) of an organism.
The sequence tells scientists the kind of genetic information that is carried in a particular DNA segment and the sequence information can be used to determine which stretches of DNA contain genes and others.
The virologist said that there was a need for government to work hard to provide an effective way to identify new coronavirus strains and other pathogens without prior knowledge of organisms.
“Growing concern over fast spreading, novel variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, such as the B.1.1.7 strain (UK) and B1.351 strain (S. Africa) highlights the need for more sequencing to detect mutations quickly and prevent the spread of new strains.
“Sequencing was used to identify COVID-19 early in the outbreak.
“Sequencing continues to provide public health officials, vaccine and drug developers, and researchers with critical evidence.
“It would allow the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) and its partners to track the transmission routes of the virus globally, detect mutations quickly to prevent the spread of new strain types.
“It will also help to identify viral mutations that can avoid detection by established molecular diagnostic assays.
“It will also help identify viral mutations that can affect vaccine potency, screen targets for possible COVID-19 therapeutics as well as identify and characterise respiratory co-infections and antimicrobial resistance alleles,” she explained.
NAN reports that the NCDC had revealed that there were about 55 variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease, circulating in the country.
It said that, as at Feb. 14, 2021, there were about 55 different lineages of SARS-CoV-2 known to be circulating in Nigeria and they were changing rapidly.
“The diversity of SARS-CoV-2 strains indicate multiple introductions of the virus into Nigeria from different parts of the world and adds to evidence of community transmission in different states of Nigeria,’’ it had said.
The NCDC said that a total of 29 cases with the B.1.1.7 variant strain, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom and shown to be linked to increase in transmissibility, have so far been detected in the country.
The public health agency said that these strains were detected from cases in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the states of Lagos, Osun, Oyo, Kwara and Edo.
All samples with the B.1.1.7 variant strain were collected from patients between November and January 2021.
The NCDC stated that as at Feb. 11, 2021, some recent SARS-CoV-2 genomes were seen to have distinct mutations and characterised as a new variant B.1.525.
It added that so far, this has been detected among cases in five states in the country.
The NCDC noted that the B.1.525 was a new strain, while assuring that it was not yet a variant of concern and further analysis was ongoing.
“As at the Feb. 17, 2021, these have been reported from UK (44), Denmark (35), Nigeria (30), United States of America (12), Canada (five), France (five), Ghana (four), Australia (two), Jordan (two), Singapore (one), Finland (one), Belgium (one) and Spain (one).
“The first detected B.1.525 case in Nigeria was in a sample collected on Nov. 23, 2020 from a patient in Lagos State,’’ it added.(