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Combating coronavirus: Dubai announces first full genome sequencing of Covid-19 virus

Staff Report
Filed on April 15, 2020 | Last updated on April 15, 2020 at 02.30 pm
coronavirus, covid-19, genome testing
A colored electron micrograph from a patient.

(alamy.com/ae)

The genome of the virus causing Covid-19 (known as SARS-CoV-2) consists of 30,000 genetic bases or letters.

Dubai's Covid-19 Command and Control Center announced the UAE's first full genome sequencing of the Covid-19 virus on Wednesday. The successful sequencing of the virus from a patient in Dubai was performed by researchers at the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBRU).

Emphasising the important role of science in combating the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr. Amer Sharif, Vice Chancellor of MBRU and head of Dubai's Covid-19 Command and Control Center said: "Scientific research is a critical resource to inform the Center's strategies and actions against this virus. We are fortunate to have academic institutions that can join other sectors in Dubai in the fight against Covid-19."

The Covid-19 Command and Control Center was established by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council, to enhance collaboration across the healthcare sector and ensure alignment with the Dubai Government's efforts to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

Genome sequencing has increasingly become an important tool for studying disease outbreaks. The genome of the virus causing Covid-19 (known as SARS-CoV-2) consists of 30,000 genetic bases or letters. Many countries have started reporting genomic sequences of the virus from patient samples. As a virus spreads and continues to reproduce, small changes in its genetic material take place. Recent studies on the virus causing Covid-19 show that these genetic changes, known as mutations, occur every two weeks on average. By studying the genetic sequence of the virus and the minor changes over time from many patients, scientists can get a better understanding of how the virus spreads which can also inform measures to control the outbreak.

Professor Alawi Alsheikh-Ali, MBRU's Provost, Member of the Emirates Scientist Council and Chair of the Scientific Advisory Group for the Command and Control Center, noted: "This development highlights the critical role of science and the scientific community in enhancing our capacity to fight emerging diseases. It is an important first step of a larger study in collaboration with colleagues from Dubai Health Authority and the Al Jalila Children's Genomic Center. We aim to fully sequence viral samples from 240 patients with Covid-19 across various age groups and at different time points of this pandemic. We will also collect information on the severity of disease in our patients which can help us understand if different strains of the virus are associated with different levels of disease severity."

Dr. Ahmad Abou Tayoun, Associate Professor of Genetics at MBRU and Director of the Genomics Center at Al Jalila Children's, said: "This is a specific example of how this information can help trace the origin of infection in this specific patient from the UAE, and can tell us a lot about viral transmission in the country . Moreover, given Dubai's role and geographic position as a bridge between the East and the West, this information will also help in understanding how the pandemic has been spreading globally".

The sequencing study is led by an experienced research team from MBRU, DHA, AJCH and other national universities. The team includes experts in virology, epidemiology, public health, genetics, and clinical research. The team is also working on other research questions related to Covid-19 and will continue to build collaborations with research institutions in the UAE and abroad.


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