PUNE: A total of 17 mutations need to be detected in the genetic make-up of the SARS-CoV-2 virus before experts can confirm that it is the new variant that originated in the UK.
Scientists who have been carrying out genome sequencing at the Pune-based Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Virology said NIV's biosafety level four (BSL-4) laboratory in Pune became the first lab to successfully isolate and culture the variant on Saturday from the sample of a Covid-positive Britain returnee.
"We need to detect all 17 mutations to confirm it's the UK strain. To do so, we have to map the whole genome of the virus and not just the spike gene. The UK variant has multiple mutations in different genes," scientist Varsha Potdar, head of National Influenza Centre at NIV said.
A set number of clinical samples, found to be positive for Covid via RT-PCR, are now being sent to NIV for whole genome sequencing.
NIV's officiating director Sarah Cherian said, "It's too early to say how the strain will play out in our population. But considering that it is a variant of concern, enhanced molecular surveillance is certainly necessary".
When asked if it was possible to develop a test to detect new mutations, Cherian said, "Since mutations in the UK strain are in multiple genes, only mapping the whole genome can ascertain the strain type".