What is COVID-19 NGS?

Updated on November 25, 2020

Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) is a critical tool in understanding emerging viruses. It is a type of diagnostic technology that can identify the genetic sequence of a virus. Scientists can use the results from this test to understand if and how a virus is mutating over time. It can also be used to guide vaccine development and help advise infection control measures and testing protocols. Keep reading below to find out all about this important tool:

What is Coronavirus?

A virus is basically a parasitic set of genetics, programmed to make copies of itself inside a host. The coronavirus is a particularly nasty virus that can cause a range of gastrointestinal, neurological, or respiratory diseases in humans.  The outer layer of this type of virus is always surrounded by fat. This is why soap is so effective in the fight against this type of virus. Soap breaks down the fatty layer around the outside of the virus and the virus breaks up. 

Difference Between the NGS and the qPCR Test

At a basic level, PCR testing helps clinicians manage patients and NGS is used to manage populations:

  • PCR testing – PCR tests provide important, yes/no answers for individual patients so that the correct management can be provided. PCR tests detect the virus’s RNA (the genetic material) in a sample. To do this, scientists add several chemicals to a sample taken from the person tested. These chemicals are used to make multiple copies of the viral RNA. This is done so that enough copies of the viral RNA are present to be detected when the sample is tested. While PCR tests are the most used tests in the fight against COVID-19, they’re not perfect. They can sometimes give a negative result even if the person has the virus. They can also produce false positives. Unlike NGS, PCR tests can also only detect known sequences.
  • NGS – NGS helps public health officials to understand transmission routes, track the path of the pandemic, perform contract tracing, determine if the virus is changing in ways that could affect the therapeutic or diagnostic effectiveness, and understand transmission rates. Unlike PCR tests, NGS can detect both novel and known transcriptions. NGS has the ability to sequence multiple genes across multiple samples at the same time. This method saves time and resources compared to other testing methods. 

The Benefits of NGS for COVID-19

NGS provides an unbiased, efficient way to identify unknown strains of coronavirus and other microbes without a previous understanding of the organism. In fact, NGS was used to discover the latest coronavirus, COVID-19

Not only can NGS be used to detect new viruses, but it can also be used to help researchers, public health officials, and drug developers to:

  • Find the source of the infection and route of transmission
  • Identify any co-infections
  • Understand the complex disease
  • Monitor viral spread
  • Screen patients for possible therapeutics

NGS and Virus Mutation

Viruses often mutate as they move from person to person. While most of the small genetic mutations make little or no difference to the effectiveness of the virus itself, they can be tracked by scientists using NGS. 

Minor mutations of the virus can be seen in NGS. These can be used to determine the coronavirus family tree as it diversifies and splits. This information can also be used to provide an indication of infection rates. Research has shown that coronaviruses mutate approximately once every two weeks

Can NGS Be Used to Measure the Spread of COVID-19?

Scientists and Epidemiologists can use Next Generation Sequencing to study mutations of viral genomes from patient samples all around the world. This information can then be used to create a genetic map that indicates the path of transmission. People within the same transmission chains will have genetic similarities in their pathogen. Following these transmission chains allows scientists and public health officials to quickly identify the origin of the pathogen, understand the routes of transmission, track the route of the epidemic, and put in place appropriate containment measures. 

As you can see from the information above, NGS is a crucial tool in the fight against COVID-19. Not only can It be used to spot mutations of the virus, but it can also be used to find the source of an infection.

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