Labs Team Up to Boost Genomic Surveillance Worldwide

Jan. 29, 2024
Two laboratories in Britain and South Africa combine forces to focus on genomic surveillance worldwide as COVID threat decreases

On Jan 25. the Wellcome Sanger Institute’s Genomic Surveillance Unit (GSU) and Stellenbosch University’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) announced their collaboration to coordinate the genomic surveillance of infectious diseases globally. Both labs were leading in tracking new coronavirus variants during the pandemic.

Sanger’s communication team wrote, “While the technologies to track disease at a genomic level have been under development for decades, the power of genomic surveillance for public health decision-making was clearly recognised during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams at the Sanger Institute and Stellenbosch University identified new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and quickly fed information to partners in public health, which led to near-real-time policy change. This new collaboration builds upon experience gained during the pandemic as well as decades-long legacies in the genomic surveillance of malaria, HIV, and other diseases….Working with an international network of scientists, the GSU and CERI will deepen knowledge of how infectious diseases are evolving and spreading, and close the information gaps that threaten public health.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines genomic surveillance as “[T]he process of constantly monitoring pathogens and analyzing their genetic similarities and differences.” Reuters’ Jennifer Rigby explained that “The process has been around for decades, but came to the forefront as scientists and public health teams tracked the fast-changing coronavirus.”

CERI’s director, Tulio de Oliveira, who also acts as deputy director of GSU, stated, “Between our two teams, we can share complementary facilities and work together on many diseases: from those carried by mosquitoes or floodwaters, to respiratory viruses with pandemic potential….We are in a good position now to respond effectively to epidemics in our own regions, and support genomic surveillance across the world.”

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