New Delhi | Jagran News Desk: The Omicron strain of COVID-19 was first identified in South Africa in the last week of November 2021. Within a week, World Health Organisation (WHO) declared it a ‘variant of concern’ and countries worldwide started to impose restrictions to contain the spread of a COVID strain identified as ‘much more transmissible’ than other strains in circulation.

This unprecedented response against Omicron strain was led by a scientific method called Genome sequencing. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the testing centres in South Africa first found COVID positive RT-PCR test samples ‘unusual’, following which the genome sequencing confirmed the new strain of COVID-19 as B.1.1.529, which was then named as Omicron by World Health Organisation.

What is Genome and how is it sequenced?

A genome is the complete genetic material of an organism. The genetic material makes it possible for an organism to express itself by performing essential life functions. A virus is not living by itself but needs a host to perform the function of multiplication. The host organism in case of COVID-19 is a human being. The virus enters human body, infects its cells and starts multiplying itself while being dangerous for various life functions of human body.

RNA (or Ribonucleic Acid) is the genetic material in COVID-19.

While multiplying itself, the virus also undergoes mutation.

Mutations are tiny errors in the genetic code that occur during the duplication process. While some mutations are harmless, others can change the virus that can make it more transmissible.

Genome sequencing procedure

Researchers in the designated genome sequencing laboratories isolate the genetic material in the form of RNA from the virus particle, convert it into DNA and analyse its sequence.

The RNA of SARS-CoV-2 reportedly has 30,000 molecules with distinct properties. So, by looking at these molecules, scientists determine the sequence of the genome for that virus.

Then, they compare the final sequence with that of previous strains to check whether it is a new or an existing strain. That’s’s how the mutation or changes in the virus is determined.

Scientists all over the world publish their genome sequencing results in a publically available database, through which global awareness on evolving COVID situation is given a direction by respective governments.

Posted By: Mukul Sharma