HudsonAlpha doctor discusses science behind identifying new coronavirus variants

Variants are identified through deep sequencing, which can take hours or days.

Posted: Feb 23, 2021 7:08 PM
Updated: Feb 23, 2021 7:19 PM

We are taking a look at the science behind identifying these new coronavirus variants.

Variants are identified through deep sequencing. That means looking at the entire genetic information of the virus to see what's different. Current tests only look for specific genetic markers, so it's kind of like reading the CliffsNotes version of a book.

Dr. Neil Lamb with HudsonAlpha says we don't need to examine every single test. Even if we wanted to, at this time, we don't have enough resources or the capacity to do that.

Testing a percentage of the positive cases can still give us a better sense of what's happening at a broader scale and whether new variants are being created.

"The virus continuously changes. That's what viruses do. They randomly mutate, and some of those mutations are actually beneficial for the virus and not so beneficial to us. So, we should expect that this is a process," Dr. Lamb said.

The entire deep sequencing process can take anywhere from a couple hours to several days.

The FDA issued new guidance for test developers, asking them to monitor how variants are impacting testing results.

The FDA has identified a few tests that are already known to be impacted by the virus mutations, but says that impact does not appear to be significant at this time.

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