Scientists have found that the genome of the coronavirus sample collected from the first patient diagnosed in Brazil is different from that of the second confirmed patient in the country. In addition, they are also different from the sequencing done on patients in China. This was confirmed by research carried out by scientists at the Adolf Lutz Institute in partnership with the Tropical Medicine Institute of the University of São Paulo, with support from the Research Support Foundation of the State of São Paulo (Fapesp). According to the researchers, this indicates that internal transmission is taking place in European countries.
The first case of the novel coronavirus in a Brazilian resident was identified on February 26. Two days after confirmation, the researchers were able to perform the first genetic sequencing of Covid-19 in Latin America. The second case of the virus in Brazil was confirmed on February 29. Both patients are residents of São Paulo but recently visited Italy. Why it is important to map the coronavirus genome Mapping the Covid-19 genome is important to help researchers understand the path of the virus and how long it has been present in a given region. By obtaining this information, health authorities can adopt better-informed measures to contain the outbreak.
Such studies were pivotal to containing the recent ebola and Zika virus epidemics. Several online databases have released mapped Covid-19 genomes in a joint global effort to help scientists around the world. One of the leading databases is the National Geomatics Center of China (NGCC), which has mapped 255 complete and distinct Covid-19 genomes from 23 countries. In Brazil, the federal government created the so-called Virus Network, which operates under the umbrella of the Science and Technology Ministry in an effort to quickly exchange information among different government agencies. “The virus found in the first confirmed infected patient was similar to viruses mapped in Germany.
The second was closer to [the UK]’s and in both cases, the virus was different from sequences found in China,” said Ester Sabino, director of the University of São Paulo’s Tropical Medicine Institute. That means that the virus found in the first patient likely infected people in Germany and the UK before reaching Italy, where both Brazilian patients were infected. This suggests that the coronavirus epidemic is reaching an advanced stage in Europe, with internal transmission occurring around the continent. “For a more accurate analysis, however, we need data from Italy, which has not yet been sequenced,” said Dr. Sabino in an interview given to the foundation that supports the research.
How are Brazilian researchers dealing with Covid-19? According to Fapesp, the complete sequencing of the second isolated viral case was completed within 24 hours. The study data will be released soon. The work has been conducted with support from the Joint Brazil-UK Center for Arbovirus Discovery, Diagnosis, Genomics and Epidemiology (Cadde), a research network dedicated to responding and analyzing epidemic data in real-time. In order to perform the sequencing with real-time monitoring, the group makes use of a portable piece of equipment known as MinION, used for the first time in the country in 2016 to map the spread of the Zika virus.
According to Dr. Sabino, the main advantage of monitoring an epidemic in real-time is the possibility of identifying exactly where the virus came from, which helps in promoting actions to reduce the spread of the disease. Claudio Tavares Sacchi, head of the Adolfo Lutz Institute’s Strategic Laboratory, said the intention is to sequence the genomes of the virus in all cases that are confirmed in the country. But if positive cases begin to multiply on a large scale, the work will be guided by the Center for Epidemiological Surveillance (CVE) of state health departments, which is also part of the Cadde Project. “In this case, the sequencing will be done by sampling and based on statistical methods, in order to guarantee that the sampled cases are representative of the total,” said the researcher.
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