By Express News Service

HYDERABAD: No lessons seem to have been learnt from the devastating second wave, as India seems to be once again proceeding slowly with genome sequencing, with fewer and fewer Covid-19 samples being sent for the same. At a webinar held by the Centre For Cellular And Molecular Biology (CCMB), Dr Rakesh Mishra, director, Tata Institute of Genetics and Society (TIGS), and also the former director of CCMB, conveyed that this fall in the number of samples being sent for genome sequencing was a major cause for concern.

Dr Mishra said as per data from GISAID — an open access data sharing platform on genome sequencing — the number of samples sent for genome sequencing in India fell from approximately 14,339 in June to about 9,579 in July. As on date, in August, data on only 3,434 samples was recorded on GISAID. In May, 6,579 samples had been sent.

Pointing out that the sampling was also non-uniform, Dr Mishra said, “We are sequencing much less than what we did a month or two ago. Apart from this, there is also a non-uniform sampling, where majority of the samples which are being submitted for sequencing are from Maharashtra and Telangana. But a State like Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest population, is sending a very small number of samples for genome sequencing. This shows that we need a national uniform protocol on sample collection for sequencing.”

Genome sequencing is very crucial for the country to identify and take quick action against new variants which could be more virulent, as was the case with the Delta variant, which began surfacing in either December or January in India, but took about five months to manifest into a wave and become the dominant strain in the country.

Dr Mishra further cited an international study that had appeared in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology, which showed the time taken between sample collection and genome data submission. For India, it was nearly 100 days, as against a mere two weeks in the UK, which again delays the task of finding new variants, he added.