Our researchers have confirmed, after studying SARS CoV-2’s genomic sequence, that the virus is presently changing into a number of distinct ‘clusters’ and are now starting to look at how this may also impact on the development of a vaccine.

We are using bioinformatics algorithms to analyse the genome of the virus that causes COVID-19, to understand how changes in the virus affect its behaviour and impact.

Coronaviruses have RNA instead of DNA, and RNA can change or mutate more rapidly. These changes may need to be taken into account when testing which vaccines or treatments might work. However, identifying the mutations – or differences – among the 30,000 letters of the viral genome is not an easy task, akin to finding a needle in a haystack.

Understanding genome sequences helps researchers choose the right strain of the virus for vaccine and diagnostic efforts.

Researchers from our Australian e-Health Research Centre, Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, and Health and Biosecurity teams have adapted bioinformatics algorithms originally used to analyse the human genome, and are using them to pinpoint the differences among thousands of different genetic sequences of the virus that causes COVID-19.

They have analysed the first 181 published genome sequences from the current COVID-19 outbreak to understand how changes in the virus affect its behaviour and impact. The team confirmed that the virus is evolving into a number of distinct clusters in different parts of the world. The peer-reviewed research paper, Supporting pandemic response using genomics and bioinformatics: a case study on the emergent SARS-CoV-2 outbreak , was accepted for publication by the Transboundary and Emerging Diseases journal on 7 April 2020.

At this time, they do not think it will affect the development and evaluation of COVID-19 vaccines, therapies and diagnostics, but will continue to closely monitor the situation. They are calling on the international community to share more genomic sequences of the virus alongside de-identified information about clinical symptoms and co-morbidities, in order to monitor the changes and form a better understanding of how important genetic differences are to the disease’s progression.

The COVID-19 genome visualisation platform can be found at Genomic Signature analysis of SARS-CoV-2 .

Learn more: Genomics joins the fight against COVID-19

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