Since April last year, the Latvian Biomedical Research and Studies Centre has been conducting a study of the SARS-CoV-2 virus or Covid-19 genome.
Vita Rovīte, lead researcher of the Latvian Biomedical Research and Studies Centre, said: “As part of the study, we are sequencing or identifying the genomes of the SARS-CoV virus in Latvia to study how the virus is spreading, what changes are in the virus, and how the Disease Prevention and Control Center can perform epidemiological monitoring.”
The virus consists of a string of 30,000 letters. Sequencing detects virus mutations. If one or several letters in this string is changed, it is a mutant and can be determined by sequencing. Mutations are normal.
"Mutations are always small changes in some place on the virus. People developing vaccines always choose very carefully the way the vaccine is developed. The vaccines that our country has bought are against the whole surface protein responsible for infecting a human being. The idea is that if the mutant is so horrible that it will change the entire protein, then the virus will no longer be able to infect the human. While the virus infects humans, vaccines will work," said researcher Dāvids Fridmanis.
Virus genome analysis is a very time-consuming job. Sequencing takes place in collaboration with laboratories testing Covid-19 patients.
Researcher Monta Ustinova said: “We get sequences of the virus genome compared to those found in Wuhan. Thus, we find out what changes have occurred in the genome of the virus. We can draw conclusions on the evolution of the virus. This has helped us to track the spread of the virus in Latvia.”
This results in Latvia-specific virus variant, with 17 mutations occurring in approximately one in five samples tested in the Biomedical Research and Study Center.
Research Center's scientific assistant Nikita Zrelovs said: “Such a set of mutations is not found anywhere other than Latvia. We are lucky that of these 17 mutations, nothing suggests they could functionally affect the virus in a way that could remain more contagious or more dangerous.”