Covid-19 response

Scientists to map Covid-19 spread

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and NHS Lothian have joined a UK consortium analysing the genetic code of Covid-19.

Female scientist prepares SARS- CoV2 sample for real time sequencing at ERI laboratories.
Scientist prepares SARS- CoV2 sample for real time sequencing at ERI laboratories.

The initiative is aiming to equip health practitioners with a tool that can help to combat the virus and save lives.

The bid by leading clinicians and scientists, to map how Covid-19 spreads, is being backed by the UK Government and the UK’s Chief Scientific Adviser.

Researchers will study the virus’ behaviour using whole genome sequencing, a process which determines an organism or virus’ complete sequence of RNA – a molecule essential in the coding of genes.

New findings

A £20 million investment will enable the consortium to make findings that help the UK respond to the current outbreak and any future pandemics.

The Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium is made up of researchers from the NHS, the UK’s Public Health Agencies and the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge. They will collaborate with scientists from some of the UK’s leading research institutions, including the University of Edinburgh.

The Consortium will deliver large-scale, rapid sequencing of the cause of the disease that will enable scientists to share intelligence with hospitals, regional NHS centres and the Government.

Genomic sequencing will help us understand COVID-19 and its spread. It can also help guide treatments in the future and see the impact of interventions. The UK is one of the world’s leading destinations for genomics research and development, and I am confident that our best minds, working as part of this consortium, will make vital breakthroughs to help us tackle this disease.

Sir Patrick VallanceGovernment Chief Scientific Adviser

Sequencing centres

Samples from patients with confirmed cases of Covid-19 will be sent to a network of sequencing centres across the UK.

By studying the whole virus genome in confirmed cases, scientists can – on a national scale –monitor changes in the virus.

This analysis will help them to understand how Covid-19 is spreading and whether different strains are emerging. 

Rapid responses

The findings will also enable clinicians and public health teams to rapidly investigate clusters of cases in hospitals, care homes and in the community.

Insights gained will help them to track how the virus is spreading and implement appropriate infection control measures.

The UK Consortium is supported by the UK Government, including the NHS, Public Health England, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Wellcome.

The UK is a leader in cutting edge genome sequencing science. We are now applying specialist expertise in our fight to slow the spread of Coronavirus and accelerate treatments for those affected.  The ambitious and coordinated response of our research community to the Covid-19 challenge is remarkable.

Professor Fiona WattExecutive Chair of the Medical Research Council