To identify new variants of coronavirus, Punjab Government has commenced its first state-run COVID-19 genome sequencing facility at Virus Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (VRDL) at Patiala’s Government Medical College (GMC) laboratory. Of the 150 samples tested in the lab so far, no new variant of coronavirus has been identified.
“The State Government has sent all samples of suspected patients of new variants at NCDS Delhi where they took more than a month to provide confirmation of new variants. As per the experts, if any case of new variant found in a specific area, there is an immediate need to conduct contact tracing and testing of all suspected patients to further prevent the spread of virus. With the availability of genome sequencing facility at GMC Patiala, the reports are now getting in five to six days,” said the state Health and Family Welfare Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu on Thursday.
Underlining the features of the facility, the Minister said that the laboratory received the MinION Mk1C developed by UK-based manufacturer – Oxford Nanopore. MinION is a unique compact and portable USB-powered device that allows one to sequence both DNA and RNA with real-time analysis providing immediate access to actionable results.
The genome sequencer and supportive equipment has been donated by a US-based non-profit organisation, PATH, as a part of their ongoing COVID-19 response support to the State.
Lauding efforts being made by the in-charge at VRDL GMC Patiala, the Minister said that Dr Rupinder Bakshi and her staff have been tirelessly serving the State since the beginning of the pandemic in March last year. “The lab has been recognized among the top five labs in COVID-19 RT-PCR testing capacity by ICMR across India,” he said.
To build on the lab's existing capacity, a team of research assistants and microbiologists, including the in-charge Dr Bakshi, have been trained in conducting COVID-19 genome sequencing by a team of experts from Genotypics, a Bangalore-based sequencing research hub. The state has initiated conversations to become a part of the central sequencing consortium, INSACOG.