Viruses are tricky. Within a single host they can make millions of copies of themselves. That is an exhausting business and mistakes occur, which is why we are seeing variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19. Enough mistakes will result in a variant.
Those genetic mistakes can be tracked using genetic sequencing. A somewhat straightforward task but one which requires highly specialized equipment and experienced researchers and technicians to get the job done quickly and most importantly, yield accurate information. Information which adds a new dimension to COVID-19 surveillance and detection.
Here in Alberta, we have those tools thanks to past investments from Genome Alberta, Genome Canada, our research universities, and of course ongoing provincial government funding. When the pandemic hit, we had bioinformatics expertise ready to analyze data and we had researchers with the experience to generate that data. Canada has one of the top COVID-19 genomic surveillance programs in the world and Alberta is a strong contributor to the national public health response.
Matthew Croxen is one of those researchers and he is leading Alberta’s genetic sequencing effort to provide home-grown information which can then be shared nationally and internationally. In the previous podcast
, freelance broadcaster Don Hill talked with him about the program and how it fits into the national CanCOGeN network which is a cross-agency network to track viral origin, spread, and evolution.
In part 2 Matthew Croxen offers some details on how variants arise and how the genetic data we are generating is being put to work. He shares his insights with Don Hill.
(Image above: Kara Gill, with Alberta Precision Laboratories’ specialized diagnostics team, loads samples on a sequencer to determine the genetic sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Courtesy of Alberta Precision Laboratories)