Government lab starts performing whole-genome sequencing testsOfficials hope the test will help identify different variants of the coronavirus and prevent the spread of infection.
The National Public Health Laboratory has started performing whole-genome sequencing tests in its own laboratory.
The whole-genome sequencing technology was set up with financial assistance from the World Health Organization.
“We have already performed a whole-genome sequencing test of over 100 swab samples of the infected people,” Rajesh Kumar Gupta, spokesperson for the laboratory, told the Post. “Now we can regularly perform whole genome sequencing in our own laboratory. It helps to know which virus is circulating in the country, and if the virus has changed its variant or how infectious the virus is.”
The tests are being conducted under the supervision of the technicians deployed by the WHO.
Whole-genome sequencing is a comprehensive method of analysing the entire DNA sequence of an organism’s genes. Researchers believe that whole-genome sequencing of coronavirus could be instrumental in tracking the severity and properties of the virus.
Along with the National Public Health Laboratory, the number of laboratories having technology to perform whole genome sequencing tests has reached four. A private laboratory, the Kathmandu University’s laboratory, Tribhuvan University’s laboratory has technology to perform whole genome sequencing tests.
Despite having facilities within the country, the Health Ministry had been sending swab samples to the World Health Organisation’s collaborating centre in Hong Kong and New Delhi.
The first case of coronavirus infection in Nepal was confirmed by the World Health Organisation’s collaborating centre in Hong Kong.
A 31-year-old man, who had returned from Wuhan, China was the first person in the country to test positive for Covid-19.
The WHO collaborating centre in Hong Kong had also confirmed the presence of a “more contagious” variant B.1.1.7 lineage of the coronavirus, known as Alpha variant, in Nepal.
Similarly, Delta and Delta Plus variants of SARS-CoV-2 were confirmed by the WHO collaborating centre in New Delhi.
“Our tests have found Delta and Delta Plus variants are dominant in the country,” Dr Krishna Prasad Paudel, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post.
Officials at the Health Ministry said that the WHO has provided a Nanopore DNA sequencing machine, which is small and cost-effective. The running cost of large-sized whole-genome sequencing facilities could take around $500 for each sample. The facility set up at the National Public Health Laboratory can perform the task at around $50 to $60.
The error rate of the Nanopore DNA sequencing is relatively higher compared to higher-end machines. Officials said that the technology is internationally recognised and accepted.
“Even if we have facilities to perform gene sequencing, we have to send some representative samples to the WHO collaborating centre for quality control,” said Dr Samir Kmar Adhikari, joint spokesperson for the Health Ministry. “It is the basic thing and every laboratory has to do it.”
Doctors say that any virus seen in any corner of the world has the chance to come to Nepal due to the mobility of the people.
“Regular monitoring of the gene of the virus will help us to contain the spread of infection and make policies accordingly,” Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of Clinical Research Unit at Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post.
“Any virus seen in any corner of the world has the chance to come to Nepal due to the mobility of people. Having a technology to perform gene sequencing helps us to know the status of the virus which ultimately helps us in taking preventive measures.”