[EXPERT REACTION] Genome sequencing of COVID-19 in Malaysia

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Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently announced that genome sequencing is being developed in Malaysia to detect mutations in the COVID-19 samples. We asked experts this question: 

“Malaysia Genome Institute (MGI) is producing the whole genome sequencing as well as bioinformatics analysis to detect mutations in the genome from COVID-19 samples. What is the significance of this process?”


Dr Ng Siew Kit, Biochemist & Senior Lecturer at the Advanced Medical and Dental Institute, Universiti Sains Malaysia, said: 

“SARS-CoV-2 (the virus official name) is a RNA virus, and is prone to mutations. What is currently not clear is the mutation rate of the virus. Whole genome sequencing of COVID-19 samples will allow us to trace the mutations that arise in each infected individual. When we couple this with information on the transmission links between the samples, we may be able to find out how frequently the virus mutates (on average). Perhaps more specifically, which part of the viral genome has a higher mutation rate and why?

There have been reports on the emergence of different strains of SARS-CoV-2, according to whole genome sequencing results from different countries. While there is no conclusive evidence on the impact of these mutations on the virus characteristic such as replication rate, infectivity, immune evasiveness, etc; we may be able to make more informed decisions on prevention and treatment strategies in the future by genotyping the major strains affecting Malaysia.”

Dr Tan Cheng Siang, Virologist & Head of Centre for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak, said: 

“China has sequenced and published the whole genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 in the public domain during the early epidemic, allowing the design and manufacturing of the diagnostic reagents for the identification of the virus. Some researchers have also reversed engineered vaccine candidates based on the full sequence. 

The comparison of its genomic sequence has revealed the close relationship of SARS-CoV-2 to bat coronaviruses, giving rise to the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 originated from bats. The new whole genome sequence from SARS-CoV-2 strains found in Malaysia may only offer evolutionary data on the virus. However, genomic comparison between SARS-CoV-2 obtained from patients with various clinical presentations may shed light into the pathogenesis of COVID-19.”

Disclaimer: Science Media Centre Malaysia has collected these comments to provide journalists with a range of expert perspectives on the subject. The views expressed here are personal opinions of the experts. They do not in any way reflect the views of the Science Media Centre or any other organization unless specifically stated. 
Bionotes of experts

Dr Ng Siew Kit is a senior lecturer in Advanced Medical and Dental Institute, Universiti Sains Malaysia (AMDI, USM).  He received his undergraduate education and Ph.D. training in Biochemistry at University of Cambridge, UK. He is a principal investigator within the RNA-Bio Research Group at AMDI, USM. His main research interest is on antiviral innate immunity. In particular, he works on virus detection and signaling pathways during viral infections, as well as regulatory mechanisms of the subsequent type I interferon response.

Dr Tan Cheng Siang is the Head of Centre for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak. A trained virologist, he has more than 20 years experience in handling infectious viruses, virus isolation and identification, phylogeny, molecular epidemiology, recombinant protein expression and diagnostic tool development. He is also a certified biosafety officer and holds four Certified Professional credentials from the International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA). 

**View all previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/

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