Scientists at the University of Ghana (UG) have successfully sequenced genomes of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the global COVID-19 pandemic, obtaining important information about the genetic composition of viral strains in 15 of the confirmed cases in Ghana.
The scientists, who work at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), under the College of Health Sciences, and the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), College of Basic and Applied Sciences, both under the UG, analyzed samples from selected cases to gain a comprehensive understanding of the variations of the virus that are present in the country.
A statement issued by the University of Ghana to confirm the breakthrough on Sunday, explained that Genome sequencing allows for the compilation of the most comprehensive information about an organism‘s genetic makeup.
It said using advanced Next-Generation Sequencing methods, scientists were able to track and compare viral mutations to understand the origins of imported strains and to discover if any novel strains were emerging locally.
Prof. Abraham Anang, Director of the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), said the successful establishment of this sequencing capability at UG, was a significant milestone in Ghana‘s response to the pandemic, as it would strengthen surveillance for tracking mutations of the virus and aid in the tracing of the sources of community infections in people with no known contact with confirmed cases.
He stated that samples analyzed were taken from two travelers, who arrived in Ghana from the UK, one from Norway, one from Hungary, one from India, and one traveler who arrived from the United States through the United Arab Emirates.
Nine samples were also taken from individuals who had no travel history, who are believed to have acquired the infection locally, he said.
Prof. Gordon Awandare, the Director of WACCBIP further said the data analysed indicated that while there were some differences between the strains from the various countries, all the 15 genomes generally resembled ( with more than 92 per cent similarity), the reference strain that was isolated in the Wuhan Province of China, where the outbreak began.
He said this confirmed that “we are dealing with the same pathogen, and that it has not yet changed its genetic make-up significantly”.
It is natural that pathogens would evolve as they encounter different environmental challenges, so the scientists would need to continue monitoring to keep track with these changes and determine how they impacted on the efficacy of potential drugs or vaccines that were being developed, he added.
The statement said the information from the sequence data was shared with scientists around the world through an open access platform known as the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) database, where other sequences from various countries were stored, at (https://www.gisaid.org/).
Prof. Ebenezer Oduro Owusu, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, said the Institution was proud to note that this feat was achieved entirely by local scientists using established local capacity including; its Next Generation Sequencing Core and ‘Zuputo‘, the High Performance Computing system, which were jointly managed by NMIMR and WACCBIP, with support from the UG Computing Systems.
He thanked the Government of Ghana, and all the funding agencies that provided grants to support the operations of the two flagship centres of excellence for biomedical research.