Sequencer Makers Step Up to Coronavirus Challenge

DNA sequencing firms have been among those organizations at the forefront of addressing the 2019-nCoVS outbreak. As of February 21, the virus is responsible for 2,250 deaths and has infected 76,800 people. Individuals in 28 countries have been affected.

To research the virus and develop diagnostic tests as well as vaccines, scientists are employing DNA sequencing to generate genomic sequences of the virus to understand its genetic makeup. Specifically, DNA sequencing is being used to rapidly and thoroughly characterize and classify the virus, including its mutations and possible origin. On the front line, the genomics sequences are being used in the development of PCR tests and immunoassays for diagnosing patients, confirming such diagnoses and supporting vaccine research.

The results of DNA sequencing has led to rapid progress in characterizing and responding to 2019-nCoVS. For example, key research papers illustrate the role of sequencing technology in addressing the crisis.

Illumina, the world’s largest maker of DNA sequencer systems, announced in late January the role its DNA sequencers are playing in studying and tracking 2019-nCoVS. “Deep sequencing of the virus can provide a complete understanding of the viral genome, help estimate pathogenicity, track viral evolution, drive vaccine discovery and thereby contribute significantly to formulation and execution of control strategies,” stated the company.

Illumina systems are also advancing accurate diagnoses. “Due to similarities between SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses, and due to the potential for co-infection, Chinese authorities are integrating sequencing in patient diagnostic workups to confirm positive cases and to detect novel mutations,” wrote the company. “Illumina has made our technology available to Chinese health authorities and are ready to support similar applications across the globe to support strategies to improve detection and to enhance our tracking of the epidemiology, evolution and virulence of SARS-CoV-2.”

Chinese sequencing services and products firm BGI sells DNA sequencers through its MGI subsidiary. The company has reported on the use of its sequencers in 2019-nCoVS research and diagnostics efforts, including patient testing and the development of nucleic acid diagnostic kits, including work with China’s National Centers for Disease Control. “High-throughput sequencing methods can be used to effectively deal with problems from rapid detection of unknown pathogens, to rapid identification of known sequences, to confirmation of positive sample results, and dynamic monitoring of possible sequence variations,” stated the company. The company’s DNBSEQ-T7 sequencing system received emergency approval from the National Medical Products Administration. NGS diagnostic effort involved the company include collaboration with Ares Genetics for disease screening services in Europe using BGI sequencers.

Oxford Nanopore, a provider of long-read nanopore sequencing technology, announced in January the shipment of 200 MinION sequencers to China in response to the crisis. The compact and easily portable sequencer will increase surveillance, according to the company. CEO Dr. Gordon Sanghera commented, “We hope that the nanopore vision of enabling anyone to access biological information, anywhere, can have a positive impact, and are immensely grateful for the community support as we work to rapidly optimize for this outbreak.”  The Telegraph reports that China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention is using the system. Oxford Nanopore recently announced the development of a diagnostic solution based on its NGS technology by Darui Biotechnology. The test will be based on Oxford Nanopore’s involvement in the ARTIC network which has developed an eight-hour workflow for virus detection.

The results of DNA sequencing has led to rapid progress in characterizing and responding to 2019-nCoVS. For example, key research papers illustrate the role of sequencing technology in addressing the crisis. A paper published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine by the China Novel Coronavirus Investigation and Research Team entitled, ”A Novel Coronavirus from Patients with Pneumonia in China,” cites the use of Illumina and nanopore sequencers. Published last month in The Lancet, “Genomic Characterization and Epedomiology of 2019 Novel Coronavirus: Implications for Virus Origins and Receptor Binding,” describes the use of BGI’s sequencing services and systems to track the virus.

Illumina, BGI and Oxford Nanopore technologies can be expected to be vital contributors to fighting the spread of the coronavirus.