Kenyan scientists make discovery on COVID-19 genetics

Kemri scientist
Kemri scientist. [Photo courtesy]

Kenyan scientists have for the first time successfully sequenced SARS-CoV 2 genomes, the virus responsible for the global Covid-19 pandemic, gaining valuable details on the genetic makeup of viral strains in 122 of the cases confirmed cases in Kenya.

On Wednesday, scientists from Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) released the results of the genome sequencing for the Covid-19 cases in Kenya.

Genome sequencing allows the most detailed knowledge to
be gathered on the genetic composition of an organism.

Scientists using advanced next-generation sequencing methods are now able to monitor and compare viral mutations to identify the origins of imported strains and to discover if there are any novel strains that occur locally.

“This successful sequencing for the novel coronavirus SARS Cov-2 in Kenya is a significant milestone in the response to the pandemic in Kenya and the entire World, as this will strengthen surveillance for tracking mutations of the virus and aid in the tracing of the sources of community infections,” Prof. Yeri Kombe, Director-General KEMRI said.

Covid-19 infections reported and confirmed were largely imported
into the country in March, according to the report.

The report deposited in the Gene Bank indicates that, based on a proportion of sequenced cases, there were at least nine separate imports of SARS-CoV-2 into the country prior to 30 April 2020.

“This is based on genetic sequencing of a proportion of SARS-CoV-2 (n=122) samples collected from cases that circulated in Kenya between 12th March and 30th April 2020”, read the report.

The study, first of its kind in Kenya, further shows that SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the country do not vary from viruses circulating
elsewhere in the world and provides evidence of local transmission in Mombasa County, with clusters of infections showing local transmission following those introductions.

The study also reveals signs of transmission between Nairobi and Mombasa before restrictions on travel to and from those counties are imposed.

It further reveals that following these introductions there
are clusters of infections that show local transmission.

In collaboration with the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), the scientists from the KEMRI Center for Virus Research (CVR) and Center for Geographic Medicine Research-Coast (CGMR-C) worked closely with county teams to analyze 122 samples from the selected cases to gain a comprehensive understanding of the virus variations present in the country.

The report deposited in the Gene Bank indicates that, based on a proportion of sequenced cases, there were at least nine separate imports of SARS-CoV-2 into the country before 30 April 2020.

The report further suggests that infections that were detected and confirmed in March 2020 were largely caused by virus imports into the country.

More sequencing will be used to identify the trend of continued distribution across the world, both within communities and between counties.

More sequencing may also provide information on missed infections and direct test strategies.

In the course of time, viruses undergo changes in their genetic code, according to scientists. Therefore, genetic sequences can provide insights on the person-to-person transmission which can be visualized by drawing genetic trees based on genetic sequence changes.